One-third of Tenn. parents worry child has undiagnosed mental health condition

Vanderbilt study looked at concerns of Tenn. parents
Vanderbilt Medical
Posted at 5:58 AM, Jul 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-15 22:43:42-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — One-third of Tennessee parents are worried their child may have an undiagnosed mental health condition, according to a new study released Wednesday morning by the Vanderbilt Center for Child Health Policy.

The analysis of a survey of 1,100 Tennessee parents also shows 29-percent of children between ages 6 and 17 already have at least one mental health diagnosis.

The study found the top mental health conditions of Tennessee children are Attention Deficit Disorder/Hyperactivity Disorder, anxiety, and depression.

"There's a stigma that becomes a barrier in addressing mental health," said Dr. Catherine Fuchs, a professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She is one of the researchers behind this new study.

"When I went into psychiatry, which was a while ago, the general teaching was that children didn't have depression. That childhood is supposed to be happy," said Dr. Fuchs. "There was more to it than that. And it's very clear that children do have risk for depression, anxiety, other mental health issues. The the assumption that they're happy becomes a barrier to having discussion."

The poll was led by researchers at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Parents were asked about their concerns related to children and mental health in the fall of 2019, before coronavirus began to spread in the state.

Researchers said the current pandemic simply heightens their concern since times are more stressful.

"For many children, the lack of social contact is concerning because children learn by social engagement," said Dr. Fuchs. "I think the other factor that's there is if a child is anxious, then the social quarantine is complicated by anxiety about the virus itself. Whereas if the child is not an anxious child, then he or she may not feel so distressed by the quarantine. The same is true with depression."

The poll showed that parents are truly worried about their child's mental health, Fuchs said. Since the poll was conducted, Fuchs said researchers have observed more anxiety in parents because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said it's important for parents to acknowledge that anxiety and take care of themselves.

Fuchs recommended using art activities, reading books about emotions or watching shows about appropriate expression of emotions to help guide the conversation with their children.

For more about this year's Child Health Poll, click here.