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 emotional needs of the patients as well as the physical needs.

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 Medicine, Psychology and Behavioral Health, and Neuropsychology are part of one of the largest pediatric centers for neurosciences 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

Trauma and violence can have a great and long-lasting impact on children and teens.

In response to the Newtown school shooting, our President and CEO, Kurt Newman, MD,  urged health and policy leaders to consider mental health as a children’s issue.

“Our nation needs a powerful strategy for improving pediatric mental health care, one that includes identifying and treating the disease early… I urge our leaders in Washington to continue to work with mental health professionals, educators and parents to thoughtfully address how we as a country ensure the mental health and well-being of our children," said Kurt Newman, MD, President and CEO of Children’s National Health System.

Paramjit T. Joshi, MD, Chair of the Division of Behavioral Medicine and Director of Psychiatry and Psychology, is also the President of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the national voice of child and adolescent psychiatrists. She advocates at the highest levels of government for resources to expand access to mental healthcare services for children and teens.  

As an internationally recognized leader in caring for children and teens with post-traumatic stress disorders, Dr. Joshi is often called upon to consult on research and outreach programs to improve access to mental health services in countries such as Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq, and Eritrea. She currently consults for the children’s hospital in Tokyo, developing a response program for children affected by natural and manmade disasters.

Dr. Joshi was honored by the American Psychiatric Association with a Special Presidential Commendation for her ongoing work and international leadership in reducing the toll of natural disasters on children’s mental health.

Dr. Joshi has contributed to the ongoing national dialogue around mental health, particularly as mental health conditions are linked to violent behavior. She continues to stress that children and teens with mental health conditions who are diagnosed and treated early, are no more likely to be violent than anyone else.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, teens, and young adults. Nearly half of these suicides involve a firearm.

Stephen Teach, MD, MPH, Associate Chief of Emergency Medicine at Children's National, and a team of researchers validated a new suicide risk screening tool for hospital emergency departments (EDs), the initial entry point for more than 1.5 million teens into the healthcare system. Participants, ages 10-21 years old, were involved in the study to develop the screening tool, and seen for a range of complaints at pediatric EDs. Nearly 30 percent were found to be at risk for 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

Recent events across the country underscore 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.

In May 2014, Children’s National convened a summit of children's hospitals and national experts to advance mental health care for children. National leaders, policy makers, and medical experts from disciplines across pediatric medicine and mental health gathered at the Children’s National Summit on Improving Children’s Mental Health Care.

The Summit was organized as a response to the call to action from last year’s 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.