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Research Review

Survey Tracks Common Mental Disorders Among American Youth

Only about one half of American children and teenagers who have certain mental disorders receive professional services, according to a nationally representative survey funded in part by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The survey also provides a comprehensive look at the prevalence of common mental disorders.
The results are part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which was conducted from 2001 to 2004 and had 3,042 participants. These most recent results include data from children and adolescents aged 8 to 15, and were published online in Pediatrics.
Overall, 13% of respondents met criteria for having at least one of the six mental disorders within the last year. About 1.8% of the respondents had more than one disorder, usually a combination of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and conduct disorder. Among the specific disorders were the following rates:  

  • 8.6% had ADHD, with males more likely than females to have the disorder;
  • 3.7% had depression, with females more likely than males to have the disorder;
  • 2.1% had conduct disorder;
  • 0.7% had an anxiety disorder (generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder); and
  • 0.1% 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," says lead author Kathleen Merikangas, PhD, of NIMH.
    Those 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 blacks, but overall, few ethnic differences in rates of disorders emerged.
    Merikangas and colleagues also found that overall, 55% of those with a disorder had consulted with a mental health professional, confirming the trend of an increase in service use for childhood mental disorders, especially ADHD. However, only 32% of youth with an anxiety disorder sought treatment, a finding consistent with other studies. Moreover, blacks 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. youths," says 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 youths," she concludes.

    — Source: National Institutes of Health