Children’s Mental Health Needs, Disparities and School-Based Services: A Fact Sheet

Updated February 28, 2012

The Need

  • In 2010, there were 74.2 million children 17 or under in the US (24 percent of the population). 54 percent were white, non-Hispanic; 23 percent Hispanic, 14 percent African-American, 4 percent Asian-Pacific, and 5 percent all other races.1
  • Of the population ages 9—17, an estimated 21 percent experienced the signs and symptoms of a DSM-IV disorder during the course of a year, 11 percent experienced significant impairment, and 5 percent experienced extreme functional impairment.2
  • On average, only one-fourth of children in need of mental health care get the help they need. 3
  • Use of psychotropic medication for children and youth has increased sharply with more than $1 billion spent in 1998 for these medications. Stimulants and antidepressants account for about two thirds of the bill. 3
  • Doctors’ offices and schools are important settings in which children’s mental disorders can be recognized and addressed.2


  • Minorities have less access to mental health services and are less likely to receive needed care.3,5
  • Minorities in treatment often receive a poorer quality of mental health care.5
  • Minorities are underrepresented in mental health research.5

The Role of Schools

  • Research suggests that schools may function as the de facto mental health system for children and adolescents.6
  • Only 16 percent of all children receive any mental health services. Of those receiving care, 70—80 percent receive that care in a school setting.4, 6
  • 83 percent of schools report providing case management for students with behavioral or social problems.7
  • Nearly half of all schools contract or make other arrangements with a community-based organization to provide mental health or social services to students.7
  • About 60 percent of the nation’s 1500 school-based health centers have mental health professionals on staff. With support from primary care providers, nearly 80 percent of centers provide crisis intervention services.8

Children and Youth Receiving Needed Mental Health Service

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Source: RAND Health Research Highlights. Calculations are based on data from theNational Health Interview Study, 1998.


  1. US DHHS. Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well- Being, 2011. Accessed on the internet at on February 28, 2012
  2. US DHHS. Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, Executive Summary. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services, NIH, NIMH, 1999.
  3. RAND Health Research Highlights: Mental Health Care for Youth. 2001. Accessed on the internet at on February 28, 2012.
  4. Rones M and Hoagwood K. School-Based Mental Health Services: A Research Review. Clinical Child & Family Psychology Review, Vol. 3, No. 4, 2000: 223-241.
  5. US DHHS. Executive Summary. Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity. A supplement to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
  6. Burns BJ, Costello EJ, Angold A, Tweed D et al. Children’s Mental Health Service Use Across Service Sectors, Health Affairs, Vol. 14, No. 3, 1995: 149-159.
  7. Brenner ND, Martindale J, Weist MD. Mental Health and Social Services: Results from the School Health Policies and Programs Study 2000, J of Sch Health, Vol. 7, No. 7, 2000: 305-312.
  8. National Assembly on School-Based Health Care. Creating Access to Care for Children and Youth: SBHC Census 1998-1999. June 2000.