Gazette opinion: Let's get Montana kids best mental health care

2013-06-11T00:00:00Z 2013-06-13T15:31:29Z Gazette opinion: Let's get Montana kids best mental health care The Billings Gazette
June 11, 2013 12:00 am

The picnic-perfect weather this past weekend in the Billings area fits with favorite summer images: Happy, care-free kids playing outdoors, enjoying a long vacation from school.

But that image often isn’t reality for children who suffer from mental illnesses. Unfortunately, mental illnesses occur year round.

Between 13 percent and 20 percent of Americans under age 18 experience a mental disorder in any given year, according to a report published last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“These disorders are an important public health issue in the United States because of their prevalence, early onset and impact on the child, family and community, with an estimated total annual cost of $247 billion,” the report said. “Mental Health Surveillance Among Children — United States, 2005-2011” is a report on the several ongoing federal surveys that track difference aspects of children’s behavioral health.

Here’s some of what these scientifically valid surveys found:

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is the most prevalent parent-reported current diagnosis among children aged 3-17 at 6.8 percent of the population.

4.7 percent of adolescents (aged 12-17) had a drug addiction last year.

4.2 percent were diagnosed with alcoholism.

About 8 percent of adolescents reported being stressed, anxious, depressed or having emotional problems more than 14 days in the previous month.

Suicide remains the second leading cause of death among Americans ages 12 to 17.

As the CDC report notes, suicide risk factors include a history of mental disorders, particularly depression, history of alcohol or other drug abuse, barriers to treatment and unwillingness to seek help because of stigma attached to mental illnesses.

Here in Montana, where the suicide rate is double the national average and usually the highest of any state, improving the mental health of children is critically important.

Virtually all the money our state spends on children’s mental health services is through Medicaid. The federal government paid more than two-thirds of the $100 million provided through state programs for children’s mental health in 2012. Altogether, 14,184 children were served, according to the Department of Public Health and Human Services’ report to the Legislature.

An interim legislative committee and a majority of the 2013 Montana Legislature voted to create a solid plan for ensuring that Montana children get the best, most appropriate mental health treatment. That plan was vetoed after a simple bill got caught up in politics.

However, the idea for a mental health pay-for-performance pilot project that could be launched by the 2015 Legislature is still the smart move for Montana’s children. We again call on Gov. Steve Bullock and Richard Opper, director of the Department of Public Health and Human Services, to work with stakeholders from across Montana to make a plan for putting the payment priority on quality care for Montana children.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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