Common Mental Disorders Among American Youth

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A new research has discovered that only half of American children and teenagers who are diagnosed with mental disorders are getting professional services. This is according to a national survey funded in part by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The survey also provides an extensive look at common mental disorders.

The survey conducted from 2001 to 2004 had 3,042 participants. These most recent results include data from children and adolescents ages 8 to 15, and were published online ahead of print December 14, 2009, in the journal Pediatrics.

"Data on the prevalence of mental disorders among U.S. youth have been varied, making it difficult to truly understand how many children and teens are affected," said NIMH Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D. "These data from the NHANES survey can serve as an important baseline as we follow trends of mental disorders in children."

For the purpose of the study, young people were interviewed directly and parents or caregivers provided additional information about their children's mental health. The researchers tracked six mental disorders that included generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, eating disorders (anorexia and bulimia), depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and conduct disorder. The participants were also asked about what treatment, if any, they were receiving.

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The study showed that 13 percent of respondents met criteria for having at least one of the six mental disorders within the last year. About 1.8 percent of the respondents had more than one disorder, usually a combination of ADHD and conduct disorder.

The specific disorders that children interviewed displayed was, 8.6 percent had ADHD, with males more likely than females to have the disorder; 3.7 percent had depression, with females more likely than males to have the disorder; 2.1 percent had conduct disorder; 0.7 percent had an anxiety disorder (GAD or panic disorder); and 0.1 percent had an eating disorder (anorexia or bulimia).

"With the exception of ADHD, the prevalence rates reported here are generally lower than those reported in other published findings of mental disorders in children, but they are comparable to other studies that employed similar methods and criteria," said lead author Kathleen Merikangas, Ph.D., of NIMH.

The study noted that those who were of lower socioeconomic status were more likely to report any disorder, particularly ADHD, and those of a higher socioeconomic status were more likely to report having an anxiety disorder. Mexican-Americans had significantly higher rates of mood disorders than whites or African-Americans, but the study showed that there were few ethnic differences in rates of disorders.

Merikangas and colleagues also found that about 55 percent of the participants with a disorder had talked with a mental health professional, confirming an increase in service use for childhood mental disorders, especially ADHD. It was noted that only 32 percent of youth with an anxiety disorder sought treatment, a finding consistent with other studies. The study showed that African-Americans and Mexican-Americans were significantly less likely to seek treatment than whites.

“Until now, there has been a dearth of reliable data on the magnitude, course and treatment patterns of mental disorders among U.S. youth," said Dr. Merikangas. "When combined with data from other nationally representative surveys, the data will provide a valuable basis for making decisions about health care for American youth," she said.

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