Teen mental health needs more attention, study finds

Only half of American teenagers receive treatment for mental conditions such as conduct disorder and depression, according to a survey of more than 3,000 youth. Adolescents with ADHD are most likely to get treatment; those with anxiety disorder are least likely. These and other findings, from a survey funded in part by the National Institute of Mental Health, reveal the need to increase awareness about mental disorders in adolescents. “We need to educate parents, teachers and children to distinguish between normal ups and downs of mood from clinically significant disorders,” says the study’s lead author, Kathleen Merikangas. This National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey provides an important glimpse into mental health issues and care, she says. Researchers tracked six mental disorders, including panic and eating disorders. Thirteen percent of the youth met the criteria for at least one of the disorders. Merikangas says that number is likely higher because her study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, was limited in scope and did not include followup interviews to track symptoms. Still, the study provides some insight into the mental health of American youth:

  • The highest percentage-almost 9 percent-of children had ADHD, and more boys showed symptoms than girls.
  • Almost 4 percent of youth had depression, and girls were more likely than boys to have it.
  • Youth from poorer families were more likely to have a disorder, particularly ADHD. Those from more affluent families were more likely to have anxiety disorder.
  • Hispanics and African-Americans were less likely to seek treatment than white youth.

Merikangas says most children with severe symptoms do receive treatment. But she hopes that future development of a database would include a range of symptoms to help adults understand mental health issues and help them identify the need for treatment early.

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