Mental Health Issues Increasing in Military Children

New data emerged during National Children's Mental Health Awareness Week showing an increase in childhood mental health diagnoses among military families.

New data emerged during National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week showing an increase in childhood mental health diagnoses among military families.

Elizabeth Hisle-Gorman, MSW, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine at Uniformed Services University, recently presented her research on trends in mental health conditions diagnosed in military children from 2001 to 2015.

The 218 children involved in the study received care in the Military Healthcare System (MHS) between October 1, 2001, and September 30, 2015. The study examined children who had 1 or more inpatient or outpatient visits in the MHS in a given year.

International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision codes were used to determine the number of visits for mental health issues, and pharmacy records provided data on related prescriptions and refills. However, prescription data was only available from 2002 to 2014.

While 9.6% of the military children were diagnosed with 1 or more mental health conditions in 2001, the percentage jumped to 15.9% by 2015, meaning that there was a 3.6% average annual increase over the study period.

National estimates showed that 9.2% of all children had a mental health diagnosis from 1996 to 1998, but that percentage grew to 13.3% from 2010 to 2012.

In addition, the researchers discovered that visits for children with mental health conditions increased from 6.1 to 12.1 per person year (an average increase of 5.7% per year).

Medication days also increased from an average of 23.3 to 44.12.

Dr. Hisle-Gorman told Pharmacy Times that it wasn’t clear why mental health diagnoses were increasing.

“However, civilian studies and national estimates for the most recent years put out by the CDC mirror our results, suggesting that the increase we saw is more reflective of social increases in diagnosed pediatric mental health conditions,” she said.

Dr. Hisle-Gorman explained that it isn’t known whether physicians are getting better at identifying pediatric conditions (such as autism) at younger ages or if there really are more cases.

Although there were more diagnoses and increased population-wide use of outpatient mental health care, the researchers didn’t find a clear upward or downward trend in pediatric psychotropic prescriptions.

“Although medication use does not appear to be changed for military children, pharmacists can always be aware of drug interactions, especially as the civilian data does suggest increasing polypharmacy in children with mental health conditions,” Dr. Hisle-Gorman said.

The researchers uncovered increases among the following diagnoses for children:

· Suicidal ideation

· Adjustment disorders

· Anxiety

· Attention deficit/conduct

· Cognitive disorders

· Mood disorders

· Psychotic disorders

· Miscellaneous disorders, such as eating and dissociative

The biggest increase over the study period was a 22% jump in suicidal ideation.

One positive finding was that personality disorders didn’t increase over the study period.

The researchers noted that their findings point to an increasing need for pediatric mental health care providers.