Mental Illness Tops Injuries as Number 1 for Child Hospitalizations

U.W. releases ninth annual State of Washington’s Children report.

U.W. releases ninth annual State of Washington’s Children report.

Mental illness is threatening Washington children’s health and disrupting their lives and education. According to the ninth annual State of Washington’s Children report, released today by the U.W.’ s Washington Kids Count project, mental health problems have now surpassed injuries and disease as the single most common reason for child hospitalizations among Washington children 5 to 18 years old.

The mental illness hospitalization rate for children ages 5 to 14 has grown from 1 in every 900 in 1990 to 1 in every 750 in 1999. While injuries are still the major cause of death among Washington children, suicide accounted for 1 out of every 6 deaths (16 percent) among adolescents 15 to 19 years old.

The State of Washington’s Children report (SWC-2001) provides a comprehensive picture of the health and well-being of children in our state each year.

According to this year’s report, mental health, oral health and a lack of preventive services are the new challenges facing Washington children.

Child advocates suggest a three-pronged approach to improve children’s mental health problems: 1) establish programs to identify children with emotional problems in their early years; 2) provide mental health services tailored to children’s unique needs; and 3) adequately fund mental health providers that serve children.

“For years, we have experienced the damaging consequences of emotional and behavioral problems on children, their families and communities,” said Dr. Frederick Connell, MD, professor at the UW School of Public Health and editor of the report. “There are clearly enormous needs in this area. The question is: Can we afford not to make a vigorous, committed and comprehensive effort to address these needs?”

“This is not a small group of kids suffering from mental health problems — this is a huge number of our state’s children, and they need our help,” explained Dr. Sheri L. Hill, assistant director of the U.W.’ s Washington Kids Count project. “Mental health problems have long-lasting consequences for the child: school failure, family conflict, substance abuse, social isolation, high-risk health behaviors, suicide, violence and delinquency. Early identification and treatment can prevent these consequences.”

Children have always been underserved by the mental health system, according to Rep. Kip Tokuda of the 37th Legislative District. “Inadequate mental health services for children now means more high school dropouts, prisoners, and more unemployed adults later,” he said.

Senate Bill 5583, which calls for greater accountability of the state’s public mental health system and a reduction in administrative costs, received legislative approval during the last session. A Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee is also conducting a study of the child mental health system through the Washington Institute of Public Policy. Study findings are due next year.

“When children’s health care is provided in a coordinated, preventive fashion we see positive results, as evidenced by improved immunization rates and birth weights. In contrast, we continue to separate children’s mental health from their physical health. This is a contrived distinction that undermines the importance of mental health,” said Richard Molteni, MD, vice president and medical director of Children’s Hospital. “We have overwhelmed the community mental health system for children and can only serve children in the most dire need. Our present system is ill-prepared to address their real health needs.”

Below are key findings from The State of Washington’s Children Report (SWC-2001):


  • Teen pregnancy and birth rates continue to decline, dropping more than 7 percent from 1998 to 1999.
  • There was a 5 percent decrease in the number of divorces involving children from 1998 to 1999.
  • Homicide deaths among adolescents 15 to 19 years old have declined.
  • Fewer 8th and 10th graders are carrying weapons or report attacking someone intending to seriously harm them.

    h3. Challenges
  • Dental decay is widespread among Washington children: one in five second-graders have untreated dental problems. Dental care is difficult to find for almost one-third of children.
  • Child care costs continue to rise, averaging one-fifth of a working parent’s income.
  • Guns and cars are the leading causes of death among adolescents, far outweighing infections, cancers and other medical causes.
  • Less than half of 4th, 7th and 10th graders met basic math standards on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) in 2000. Children of color lag behind white students in both reading and math. Three-quarters of Asian and white fourth-graders met basic reading standards, but only half of African American, Native American and Hispanic fourth-graders.
  • Immunization levels are declining while child obesity is increasing in our state.
  • Almost 40 percent of births are either mistimed or unwanted. Almost 3,000 more children were living in out-of-home care in 2000 than in 1999.

For more information about the conditions of children in Washington, or if you are interested in receiving a copy of The State of Washington’s Children (SWC-2001), please call Washington Kids Count at (206) 685-7613, or visit our website at

About Seattle Children’s

Seattle Children’s Hospital, Foundation and Research Institute together deliver superior patient care, advance new discoveries and treatments through pediatric research, and raise funds to create better futures for patients. Consistently ranked as one of the top 10 children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Seattle Children’s Hospital specializes in meeting the unique physical, emotional and developmental needs of children from infancy through young adulthood. Through the collaboration of physicians in nearly 60 pediatric subspecialties, Seattle Children’s Hospital provides inpatient, outpatient, diagnostic, surgical, rehabilitative, behavioral, and emergency and outreach services to families from around the world.

Located in downtown Seattle’s biotech corridor, Seattle Children’s Research Institute is pushing the boundaries of medical research to find cures for pediatric diseases and improve outcomes for children all over the world. Internationally recognized investigators and staff at the research institute are advancing new discoveries in cancer, genetics, immunology, pathology, infectious disease, injury prevention, bioethics and much more.

Seattle Children’s Hospital and Research Foundation and Seattle Children’s Hospital Guild Association work together to gather community support and raise funds for uncompensated care, clinical care and research. The foundation receives nearly 80,000 gifts each year, from lemonade stand proceeds to corporate sponsorships. Seattle Children’s Hospital Guild Association is the largest all-volunteer fundraising network for any hospital in the country, serving as the umbrella organization for 450 groups of people who turn an activity they love into a fundraiser. Support from the foundation and guild association makes it possible for Seattle Children’s care and research teams to improve the health and well-being of all kids.

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