Since about 2007, the percent of all hospitalizations of kids 18 and under for a mental health reason has nearly doubled. According to state public health data, there have been a steady number of total hospitalizations - about 20,000 - for kids statewide. In 2002, the percent admitted for a mental disorder was between six and eight percent for kids with private insurance or Medicaid, and quite low for uninsured kids. Today it's between 10 and 12 percent across the board.
Why? Well, that's something I'm looking into. But as with many health indicators, it's because of a combination of factors, I'm learning. Some sources have told me that the stress of the recession on families exacerbated mental health problems. Others have told me mental health resources in the community have gotten harder to come by. I'm also hearing that bullying is on the rise.
But why does this kind of statistic matter at all? Because hospitalization is the most expensive form of treatment, whether it's billed to a private insurer, a public payer like Medicaid, or your own bank account. The goal of so many efforts to reform how we pay for and deliver health care is to reduce hospitalizations and long term stays in institutions, to try to prevent the need for those stays by giving people access to quality care in the community before symptoms worsen.
Some kids need to be hospitalized, no question, if they're in danger of hurting themselves or others, for example. But some of these hospitalizations may have been prevented. Are there ways the state could try to bring the percentage down? Perhaps, but it might take some initial investment, or require some reorganizing of services.
Have you encountered difficulty in accessing services for your child? Let me know at kgourlay AT ripr DOT org.