Untreated Mental Health in Children a Major Driver for School Dropout, Crime and Suicide in Chattanooga

The Pediatric Healthcare Improvement Coalition of the Tennessee Valley (PHIC-TV) has identified Mental Health issues as one of the five major challenges faced by children, adolescents, their families and pediatricians in the greater Chattanooga area. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has described mental health as a “state of successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to change and to cope with adversity.”[i]  The term “mental health” can be broad and often encompasses “behavioral,” “neurodevelopmental,” “psychiatric,” “psychological,” “social-emotional,” and “substance abuse,” as well as adjustment to stressors such as child abuse, neglect, domestic violence, grief and loss.[ii] The genesis of mental health problems stem from biological factors and psychosocial environment as well as interaction between the two.

According to studies cited by the Tennessee Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, “between 9.5% and 14.2% of children birth to age five display social-emotional problems that affect family functioning.” Additionally, “1 in 10 children have a diagnosed behavioral health disorder and more than twice as many children have behavioral health symptoms that cause impairment. Unfortunately, 4 out of 5 of these children do not receive the services they need to improve their behavioral and emotional health.”

The consequences of this unmet need take many forms. In education, students with serious emotional disturbances fail more classes, miss more days of school, have lower grades, and have a higher dropout rate than other students with disabilities.[iii] Interpersonal and educational issues compound over time leading to higher rates of substance abuse, criminal activity and incarceration, poor preparedness for employment, suicide, and a greater impact on social safety nets. The National Alliance on Mental Health’s Children’s Mental Health Fact Sheet[iv] notes:

  • Approximately 50% of students with a mental disorder age 14 and older drop out of high school; this is the highest dropout rate of any disability group
  • 65% of boys and 74% of girls in juvenile detention have at least one mental disorder.
  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth aged 15 – 24.
  • When children with untreated mental disorders become adults, they use more health care services and incur higher health care costs than other adults. Left untreated, childhood disorders are likely to persist and lead to a downward spiral of school failure, limited or non-existent employment opportunities, and poverty in adulthood. No other illnesses harm so many children so seriously.(emphasis added)

Given the large number of children and families impacted in the Tennessee Valley and the profound social and economic ramifications when untreated or undertreated, the Pediatric Health Improvement Coalition (PHIC-TV) believes mental health interventions and systems of care should be at the forefront of pediatric healthcare discussions.  Please support PHIC-TV and get more information at healthychattanoogakids.blogspot.com.


John Farrimond, MBA

President and CEO

Siskin Children’s Institute


Lois Kohrt, MBA

Administrative Director

Siskin Center for Developmental Pediatrics

[i] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2001). Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity – A Supplement to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, Maryland.

[ii] Enhancing Pediatric Mental Health Care: Strategies for Preparing a Community. Jane Meschan Foy, James Perrin and for the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Mental Health. Pediatrics 2010;125;S75. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2010-788D

[iii] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2001). Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity – A Supplement to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, Maryland.

[iv] http://www.tnaap.org/BEHIP/prevalence_data.htm