Teen Mental Health Care Access Is On The Rise, But There’s Still Room For Improvement

Not all teens have equal access to mental health care, according to new research. 

Shutterstock

As one in every five teens in the U.S. lives with a mental illness — such as ADHD, anxiety disorder, or depression, just to name a few — you would think that teens should be able to get mental health help just as easily and routinely as they would get a check-up from their primary care doctor. That’s not quite the case, according to a new study from the University of Michigan National Voices Project. But here's some good news: Mental health care access is on the rise.

In a 2012 survey of more than 2,000 adults who work with children and teens, 39 percent of participants said that their local adolescent population had plenty of access to mental health care. When the survey was duplicated two years later in 2014, that number jumped to 54 percent — but only in communities with few or no perceived racial or ethnic inequities.

In communities with some or many perceived racial or ethnic inequities, there is still an increase in mental health care access from 2012-2014, but the percentages rest 15-20 percent lower than those of more privileged communities. The overall increase is worth applauding, but mental health care should not be exclusive; all teens should have easy access. 

Check out this infographic from the National Voices Project for a breakdown of the disparities:

Matthew M. Davis, M.D., M.A.P.P., National Voices Project director and University of Michigan professor, believes that despite improvement, teen access to mental health care remains a problem. In the press release, he explains,

Given how common mental health concerns are among adolescents, improving access to behavioral services is as important as enhancing access to primary care.

Davis’ research makes one thing clear: There is still much to be gained in the mental health care space. In the meantime, learn how you can help suffering teens by reading this guide to teen mental health problems. Non-judgmental acknowledgment –– from both parents and teachers –– is a crucial first step.