* Huge gaps in mental health for children
* Most disorders appear before high school
* Only one-quarter of kids who need help get it
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON, Jan 24 The U.S. mental health system
has huge gaps that prevent many children with psychological
problems from receiving effective treatment that could prevent
tragic consequences later in life, experts told U.S. lawmakers
Just over a month after the shooting rampage in Newtown,
Connecticut, mental health experts said psychological disorders
usually emerge before people enter high school but that only
one-quarter of children with problems see trained professionals
and often the care is not enough.
"We see the results of insufficient mental healthcare in
school failure and suicide. How do we do better?" Michael Hogan,
head of the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health,
said in written testimony to the Senate Health, Education, Labor
and Pensions Committee.
"While the gaps in children's mental healthcare are huge,
there is also reason for hope," he added. "In part, this is
because we know more about what works, and what doesn't."
Hogan, a former New York mental health commissioner, was
scheduled to appear with two other experts Thursday at the
Senate committee's first hearing on mental health issues since
the presidency of Republican George W. Bush, who set up the
commission Hogan now chairs.
The hearing was scheduled in response to the shootings at
Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School where Adam Lanza, a young
man described as having mental issues, gunned down 26 people
including 20 young children with an AR-15-type assault rifle on
The tragedy and other mass shootings in recent years have
ignited a debate about gun control and mental health, including
a push by President Barack Obama for stronger gun controls and
better mental health training for schools and communities.
Robert Vero, chief executive of a network of Tennessee
clinics called Cornerstone, said mental health professionals who
work with children also lack access to parents and other
relatives whose problems may contribute to a child's troubles,
sometimes due to inadequate insurance coverage.
"We need to be able to teach parenting skills if we want the
child's behavior to change," said Vero. "We need to be able to
address the parent's depression or addiction."
The experts credited Obama's healthcare reform law, the
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, with making a step
forward by requiring insurers including Medicaid to provide
coverage for mental health issues.
But they said the American social safety net still fails to
provide adequate access for the poor and elderly, noting that
state mental health funding declined $4 billion from 2009 to
2012 as a result of budget constraints posed by recession and
the weak economic recovery.
(Editing by Jilian Mincer and Lisa Shumaker)