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A new poll shows gaps in children's behavioral health treatment

May 18, 2015

A new poll shows parents are hesitant to talk to doctors about their children’s behavioral challenges.

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Temper, anxiety and concentration can be major behavioral health issues for children. But a new Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health shows a large number of parents don’t talk about it with their pediatricians.

Nearly half of parents believed that behavioral issues were not medical problems. Another 40% of parents say they would rather handle it themselves.  Roughly 30% say they would rather speak to someone other than a doctor.

“I think they just don’t necessarily make the connection,” says Sarah J. Clark, M.P.H., associate director of the National Poll on Children’s Health and associate research scientist in the University of Michigan Department of Pediatrics.

One exception is depression.

The poll found more than 60% of parents will talk to their children’s doctor if the child appears unusually sad for more than a month.

Clark says behavioral health can be connected to other medical issues.

She says some behavior and emotional issues are mild and short-lived. However, others are signs of longer-term problems like depression, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, mood and behavior disorders, or substance abuse.  

“Health care providers rely on parents to describe how children act in their regular, day-to-day lives outside of the doctor’s office in order to identify situations or behaviors that may be signs of larger problems,’ says Clark.