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Parents Around the World Show Support for Pediatric Mental Health Screenings in New Survey

June 29, 2023

Researchers explore the attitudes of parents and caregivers toward mental health screenings in primary care settings.

New York, NY – There has been a startling uptick in mental health challenges among children worldwide, prompting a race to improve early detection of mental health disorders. Studies suggest that early detection in youth plays a critical role in minimizing the severity and progression of these disorders and improving access to care. Many health care systems have already made an increased effort to provide mental health screenings in primary care settings. However, more work needs to be done regarding patient accessibility, and the problem may lie in who’s been the focus in previous studies.

Using existing literature and professional expertise, researchers at the Child Mind Institute conducted a novel multinational survey to examine overall views toward pediatric mental health screenings.

“To date, much of the research on pediatric mental health screening has focused on the attitudes and preferences of medical staff and of patients, rather than of parents and caregivers. Additionally, implementation of these screenings [has] often been blocked by barriers, such as time and cost. This survey study aimed to assess the comfort levels of parents and caregivers towards pediatric mental health screening and to identify factors that may influence their preferences,” explains Mirelle Kass, first author and research projects coordinator at the Child Mind Institute.

The data for this survey was collected in 2021 through Prolific Academic, which is a widely accessible online survey recruitment service. Participants from 19 English-speaking countries were included in this study. All were required to be fluent in English, be a parent or caregiver to at least one child (5–21 years old), and report about the oldest child currently living at home.

Results were eye-opening, with over 90% of participants reporting that they wanted their child regularly screened for mental health issues. There was a strong preference for annual screenings to be completed in health care offices, although comfort levels for at-home screenings were also high. Most preferred to have physicians and psychologists interpret and discuss results of the screenings, showing significantly less comfort with social workers, general office staff, or teachers.

In terms of topics, parents and caregivers preferred to discuss their child’s sleeping habits, social media use, and learning disorders. They were the least comfortable with discussing topics like substance abuse, gun violence, gender identity, and suicidal thoughts. Many showed strong discomfort at the idea of their children taking mental health assessments on their own, but showed more leniency if their child was older. A majority of participants agreed that early detection, early intervention, and learning more about their child were the biggest benefits to mental health screening.

These results have opened the door for several topics of discussion. Regarding more internalized mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, parents and caregivers may be less aware about what’s going on in their child’s head. Because of this, discomfort toward allowing their child to self-report may hinder early detection. Additionally, parents’ hesitation to discuss key topics like gender identity and suicidal thoughts indicates the need for more efforts toward educating parents about mental health. Based on participants’ overwhelming preference for physician expertise, schools may benefit from either having medical or psychological professionals on site or referring children to their primary care provider for mental health screenings.

“The study findings aim to add to the research of youth mental health screening in order to aid in implementation efforts. The study also offers potential areas for optimization of screenings that could potentially resolve or address the barriers that have been previously identified by other researchers,” says Kass.

This work was supported by a grant from the Hearst Foundation; gifts to the Child Mind Institute from Phyllis Green, Randolph Cowen, and Joseph Healey; awards R01MH124045 and R01MH091864 from the NIMH (Dr Milham); and grant ZIAMH002953 from the Intramural Research Program of the NIMH (Dr Merikangas).

To read the full article, click here: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2806290

About the Child Mind Institute

The Child Mind Institute is dedicated to transforming the lives of children and families struggling with mental health and learning disorders by giving them the help they need to thrive. We’ve become one of the leading independent nonprofits in children’s mental health by providing gold-standard evidence-based care, delivering educational resources to millions of families each year, training educators in underserved communities, and developing breakthrough treatments. Together, we truly can transform children’s lives. Learn more at ChildMind.org.

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For press questions, contact our press team at childmindinstitute@sunshinesachs.com or our media officer at mediaoffice@childmind.org.

Kass M, Alexander L, Moskowitz K, et al. Parental Preferences for Mental Health Screening of Youths From a Multinational Survey. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(6):e2318892. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.18892

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