Youth Mental Health Care Costs Have Risen More Than 30%

Amid an alarming surge in mental health conditions among children and teens in the United States, the cost of caring for a child with a mental health condition has risen drastically, new research has found.

The price of accessing care for a child with a mental health condition rose more than 30% between 2017 and 2021 — resulting in an average of $4,361 more per year for a single child.

The research, published in JAMA Network Open, demonstrates the growing prevalence of pediatric mental health diagnoses, the rising costs associated with them, and the demand for resources.

Researchers conducted the study by analyzing data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population that contains medical spending, use, and household demographic information. They found that mental health diagnoses for children between the ages of five and 17 rose by 21.6% between 2017 and 2021, increasing from 21.3% of all children to 25.9%

Overall, in 2021, youth mental health conditions were associated with $31 billion in child spending, $59 billion in household spending, and made up 46.6% of all pediatric medical spending.

Also in 2021, the U.S. Surgeon General published an advisory report about an increase in mental health challenges among youth, calling it a “mental health pandemic.”

The study, meanwhile, found that pediatric mental health conditions were also associated with an average of $2,337 higher total medical spending among other household members, which may be explained by the fact that poor mental health among caregivers is associated with child mental health disorders.

The authors said that while some sources of spending, such as mental health medication and doctor’s office costs, may be beneficial if the care is high quality and evidence-based, others, such as pricey emergency department costs, may reflect the need for improved care.

“These results underscore the large financial burden associated with pediatric MH conditions on the U.S. health care system,” the authors wrote. “The associated increase in household member medical spending may warrant family-based approaches to treating pediatric MH conditions.”

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