Federal Government Not Funding Enough Research For Mental Health Problems in Children, Yale Study Finds

Although it is well established that primary care doctors are on the front lines in identifying and treating behavioral and emotional problems in children, there is little federally funded research in this area, according to a study by a Yale researcher published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“We were looking at whether the funding for research in children’s psycho-social issues that had been so heavily recommended in federal planning and policy documents was in evidence in the funded projects. In other words, did the money essentially match the written word,” said Sarah Horwitz, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Yale School of Medicine. “We found that it did not, that indeed there was very little emphasis on research for children with emotional and behavioral disorders in primary care settings.”

Horwitz and researchers from several other institutions came to their conclusion after conducting an analysis of the Computer Retrieval of Information on Scientific Projects (CRISP) database, which lists all of the projects funded by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

Only 0.1 percent of the entire research portfolio examined children, adolescents or youth and primary care and only 2.3 percent of the federally funded research on children, adolescents or youth overall is dedicated to this area, the researchers found. Looking at one area specifically, only six of 103 federally funded research studies into depression were related to depression in children. “On a topic that is important across the lifespan, adults received more than 15 times the research attention compared with children,” Horwitz said.

Twenty percent of children in this country are diagnosed with behavioral and emotional problems and yet only a small portion of those children ever receive services, she said. “Kids get into the system through primary care when they are young and through the schools when they are older,” Horwitz said. “You would expect the system that comes in contact with the kids would be very good at identifying, referring and treating kids with problems, yet there is a dearth of research in this area.”

Without an understanding of the opportunities and barriers that face physicians confronted with these and a host of other important issues, primary care will remain an underused venue for providing mental health services to children, the researchers said. “Developing knowledge of the capacity for change in primary care necessitates creating a well-planned research agenda that builds knowledge in an orderly fashion and implementing it,” they said.

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