Economics of Children’s Mental Health
Past-year prevalence of diagnosable mental disorders among children is high (13% among ages 8-15), increasing over the past decade, and imposes considerable short- and long-term costs including suicide, substance abuse, lower educational attainment, and higher crime. The proposed session includes a cohesive set of three studies with assigned discussants, organized around the theme of children’s mental health and areas where this focus is topical and takes on added salience: effects of the Great Recession; interplay between mental health and juvenile justice; and intergenerational effects of maternal depression on children’s mental health and development. All three papers exploit plausibly exogenous variation (for instance, area-level variation in labor market conditions and housing prices; discontinuous program rules in the juvenile justice system; clinical onset of certain forms of maternal depression that is arguably exogenous) in conjunction with appropriate econometric methods to estimate credible causal effects. Paper 1 assesses how the recent economic downturn and the housing crisis have affected mental health outcomes among children and their use of mental health services, adding to the sparse literature on the effects of economic conditions on children. Paper 2 assesses intergenerational effects of maternal depression on children’s mental health and development. Paper 3 utilizes administrative data and exploits discontinuities in program rules for diversion of some juvenile offenders into different mental health treatment programs to assess the effects of this treatment on recidivism and future re-offending rates. These papers shed light on the determinants and potential consequences of mental health issues among children.