Emotional or behavioral problems may make it more difficult for children to get the health care they need. The consequences may have disrupting effects on the entire family, according to a new report.

CDC researchers found that children with chronic emotional, behavioral, or developmental problems, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities, have more difficulty finding and receiving the health care they need than children with chronic medical conditions like diabetes with reported emotional, behavioral, or developmental problems.

Researchers say overall about 13 percent of American children have special health care needs. Of those included in this study, about 4 percent of all children were reported by parents as suffering from emotional, behavioral, or developmental problems compared with about 29 percent of children with special health care needs.

Compared with children with other chronic medical conditions, the study shows that children with emotional or behavioral health issues were more than twice as likely to be affected by their conditions and these conditions often created financial problems at home.

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Children’s Mental Health Problems Have Wide Effect

In the study, researchers analyzed information from a 2001 survey of the parents or guardians of nearly 40,000 children with special heath care needs.

Of children with reported emotional, behavioral, or developmental problems, the most commonly reported conditions were attention deficit disorder (ADD) or ADHD (53.5 percent), a learning disability (51.7 percent), anxiety or depression problems (43.5 percent), and autism (6.8 percent).

The study showed that compared with other children with special health care needs, children with these problems were more likely to have:

—Health conditions that affected their daily activities

—Missed 11 or more days of school in the last year

—No or inadequate health insurance Unmet needs for health care services

—Difficulty getting health care referrals More than $1,000 in annual out-of-pocket medical expenses

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In addition, family members of children with emotional, behavioral, and developmental problems were more likely to have:

—Experienced financial problems related to the child’s health

—Reduced work hours or stopped working to care for the child

—Spent 11 or more hours per week providing or coordinating health care for the child

Researchers say the results show that a child’s mental health problems can have a ripple effect on the health and welfare of the child and his or her family.

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By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Oct. 7, 2005; vol 54: pp 986-990. News release, CDC.