Survey Tracks Mental Disorders Among American Youth

Survey Tracks Mental Disorders Among American YouthNational Institute of Mental Health

Only about one-half of American children and teenagers who have certain mental disorders receive professional services, according to a survey funded in part by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The survey, conducted from 2001 to 2004, had 3,042 participants. The most recent results include data from children and adolescents ages 8 to 15, and were published online in December 2009. In the study, the young people were interviewed directly. Parents or caregivers also provided information about their children’s mental health. The researchers tracked 6 mental disorders – 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. In addition, the survey looked at prevalence of common mental disorders. Overall, 13% of respondents met criteria for having at least 1 of the six mental disorders within the last year.

Among the specific disorders:

  • 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 (GAD or panic disorder)
  • 0.1% had an eating disorder

“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, 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 Caucasians or African-Americans, but overall, few ethnic differences in rates of disorders emerged.

The researchers 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. Moreover, African-Americans and Mexican-Americans were significantly less likely to seek treatment than Caucasians. For more information, visit www.nimh.nih.gov.

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