Mental Health

A Children's Health Issue

In May 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that almost 20 percent of children between the ages of 3 and 17 were diagnosed with a mental health condition. This was the first report ever to formally acknowledge mental health in children as an important public health issue in the United States. As Children’s National leaders have pointed out, most mental health conditions start in childhood or adolescence, and there is an eight-year delay from the first sign of symptoms until a diagnosis.

Helping Children Become Healthy Adults

With more than 140 years of experience caring for children, Children’s National knows the importance of treating the physical and emotional needs of children. We have many mental health programs and services, and offer counseling for patients of all ages and their families. Our divisions of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Psychology and Behavioral Health, and Neuropsychology are part of one of the largest pediatric centers for neuroscience and behavioral health in the nation. As a health system, our mental health specialists work with pediatricians in the community to diagnose and treat mental illness.

Our leaders have helped raise awareness about children’s mental health, and have advocated for training community "first responders" such as teachers who are typically the first to notice warning signs of mental health issues in children. Given the nationwide shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists and psychologists, it is important that community-based children’s health providers and others are taught to recognize warning signs, and know how and where to refer children and teens who need mental health care.

Looking Toward a Better Future

The more we know about mental illness, the earlier we can make a diagnosis and begin treatment. Our clinicians and researchers actively study treatments that improve health and quality of life for children and families with mental illness. Our ongoing clinical trials and research focus on identifying genetic risks to help us better understand specific disorders and how a child’s mental health is affected.

Children’s Staff: National Experts on Challenging Subjects

Adelaide Robb, M.D., is the Children's National Chief of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and has focused on many aspects of child behavioral health during her 20-year career at Children's National, including anxiety and depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficits and autism. When Dr. Robb was previously Division Chief of Psychology and Behavioral Health, she oversaw an effort that provided psychology consultations to many medical programs within Children’s National such as Oncology, Gastroenterology, Diabetes and other chronic conditions.

Children's Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences division features comprehensive inpatient and outpatient psychiatric care tailored for specific conditions and family support to address social, educational and emotional difficulties that accompany psychiatric disorders. The clinical efforts are accompanied by a multidisciplinary research program that seeks to identify new treatment options and interventions for children and adolescents ages 6 to 17.

A critical area of psychiatric care addressed by our physicians and researchers are children contemplating suicide, which is the second leading cause of death for children, teens and young adults. Nearly half of these suicides involve a firearm. Children's researchers, led by Stephen Teach, M.D., MPH, Associate Chief of Emergency Medicine at Children's National, have validated a new suicide risk screening tool for hospital emergency departments, the initial entry point for more than 1.5 million teens into the healthcare system.

Participants, who ranged from 10 to 21 years old, were involved in the study to develop the screening tool, and were seen for a range of complaints at pediatric emergency departments. Nearly 30 percent were found to be at risk of suicide. Because many who attempt suicide are not previously diagnosed with a mental illness, this screening tool is important in identifying children and teens who need further support — one of the many ways we are making progress in improving mental healthcare for children and teens.

Why Children's Mental Health Matters to Us

We know that mental health is an issue that touches everyone. One in five children in our nation has a mental health disorder, yet only 20 percent of those children will ever receive treatment. Those who do will wait an average of eight to 10 years before that treatment begins. If we want healthier societies, we must start with our children.

Children’s National convened a summit of children's hospitals and national experts in 2014 to advance mental health care for children, the Children's National Summit on Improving Children’s Mental Health Care. It was organized as a response to the call to action from the White House National Conference on Mental Health, which encouraged nonprofit organizations and private sector companies to help lead changes in mental health care for children through continued conversations.