Children’s Mental Problems Often Overlooked

About 13 percent of American children and young teens suffer from at least one mental health disorder, yet only about half have been seen by a mental health professional, according to a survey funded in part by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and published in the journal Pediatrics. “We need to get these kids the help they need and determine what the best type of intervention to help kids from suffering needlessly,” NIMH researcher Dr. Kathleen R. Merikangas noted in a telephone interview with Reuters Health. The problem, she said, is that there is a severe shortage of mental health professionals with expertise in child psychiatry in the US. “There simply aren’t enough child psychiatrists to go around. It’s an urgent crisis.” Reuters reports that the survey, conducted from 2001 to 2004 among a nationally representative sample of 3,042 children aged 8 to 15, provides a comprehensive look at the rates of six common mental disorders: anxiety disorder, panic disorder, eating disorders (anorexia and bulimia), depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and conduct disorder. Among the specific disorders, 8.6 percent had ADHD, with boys more likely than girls to have the disorder; 3.7 percent had depression, with girls more likely than boys to have the disorder; 2.1 percent had conduct disorder; 0.7 percent had an anxiety disorder (generalized anxiety or panic disorder); and 0.1 percent had an eating disorder (anorexia or bulimia). With the exception of ADHD, those rates, Merikangas noted in an NIMH-issued statement, are lower that some other surveys have found, although they are comparable to rates in certain studies. A closer look at the data revealed that children and teenagers of a lower socioeconomic status were more likely to report any disorder, particularly ADHD, while 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 overall, few ethnic differences in rates of disorders emerged. Overall, 55 percent of those with a mental disorder had consulted with a mental health professional. Only 32 percent of youth with an anxiety disorder sought treatment. African-Americans and Mexican-Americans were significantly less likely to seek treatment than whites, highlighting the need to identify and remove barriers to treatment for minority youth, the researchers note. “We need to raise awareness that most of the problems that we see in adults in terms of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, even psychosis, begin in adolescence, some in childhood,” Merikangas told Reuters Health. “We need to identify these kids so that we can prevent these conditions from interfering their development—and life.”

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