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In U.S., 20% of children have mental illness

Teresa Tanoos's picture
20% of American children have mental illness

Nearly 20% of children in the United States suffer from a mental disorder, and that percentage has been increasing for over a decade, according to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This is the first time the CDC has reported on mental disorders among children aged 3 to 17. Researchers for the report found that mental illnesses affect approximately one in five children, costing around $247 billion per year in medical expenses, juvenile justice, and special education – a whopping increase since 2009, when the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported that the costs of treating mental illness reached $8.9 billion in 2006.

Childhood mental disorders are defined as serious changes in the ways children handle their emotions, learn, or behave. Symptoms generally begin in early childhood, but some may develop during adolescence. A diagnosis is often made during the school year, if not earlier.

Mental disorders can last throughout an entire life – and, without treatment and early diagnosis, they can lead to problems at school, home and in developing friendships.

Take bullying for example. Prior research indicates that children with mental disorders are three times more likely to be identified as bullies. Bullying is a kind of youth violence defined as repetitive and intentional aggression involving a disparity of power between the victim and perpetrator. In a 2011 nationwide survey, 20 percent of high school students in the U.S. were bullied during the preceding 12 months.

Meanwhile, this new report from the CDC outlines federal causes on monitoring mental disorders and provides estimates on the number of children with certain mental disorders.

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For the report, researchers examined data from several sources between the years of 2005 and 2011. The researchers found that ADHD was the most prevalent current diagnosis among children aged 3 to 17 years, and that the number of children with a mental disorder increased with age, except autism spectrum disorders, which were highest among children between the ages of 6 and 11.

The report also found that boys were more likely than girls to have ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, Tourette syndrome, cigarette dependence, behavioral or conduct problems, and anxiety. Boys between the ages of 12 to 17 were also at higher risk for dying by suicide that girls, although girls were more likely than boys to have depression and/or have an alcohol abuse disorder.

Specifically, the most significant findings in the report for children ranging in age from 3 to 17 years were:

• ADHD (6.8%)
• Conduct or Behavioral Problems (3.5%)
• Anxiety (3.0%)
• Depression (2.1%)
• Autism spectrum disorders (1.1%)
• Tourette syndrome (0.2% among children 6-17 years old)

The most significant findings for adolescents aged 12 to 17 years were:

• Illicit drug use disorder in the last year (4.7%)
• Alcohol use disorder in the last year (4.2%)
• Cigarette dependence in the last month (2.8%)

Mental health is critical to overall health, and these findings suggest that mental health is also a significant component of public health. The CDC reports the goal for now is to develop improved methods on how to document children who have mental disorders, better understand these disorders, and implement and recommend treatment and intervention strategies.

SOURCES: Fitzgerald, K. (2013, May 19). "In US, 20% Of Children Have A Mental Disorder." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mental health surveillance among children — United States 2005–2011. MMWR 2013;62 (Suppl; May 16, 2013):1-35.