NIMH Study Examines Rates of Mental Disorders Among American Youth

December 16, 2009

A recent study from the National Institutes of Mental Health shows that a little more than half of children and adolescents in the US diagnosed with a mental disorder have seen a mental health professional.

Results of the recently completed National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reveal that 55% of children and adolescents in the US who have been diagnosed with a mental disorder have seen a mental health professional.

According to the researchers, from the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this finding confirms “the trend of an increase in service use for childhood mental disorders, especially ADHD.” In contrast, only 32% of the patients with an anxiety disorder received treatment, which, according to the researchers, is “a finding consistent with other studies.” In addition, African Americans and Mexican Americans were significantly less likely to receive treatment than whites, which reiterates “the need to identify and remove barriers to treatment for minority youth,” the researchers said.

The survey also examined the rates of six mental disorders among this age group: generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, anorexia and bulimia, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and conduct disorder. Altogether, 13% of patients surveyed met the criteria for at least one of the six disorders, and about 1.8% of respondents had more than one disorder, which was usually a combination of ADHD and conduct disorder. Individuals of a lower socioeconomic status were more likely to report symptoms of any of the disorders, especially ADHD, and individuals of a higher socioeconomic status were more likely to report an anxiety disorder. Though there were “few” differences in the rates of disorders among different ethnicities, according to the researchers, “Mexican-Americans had significantly higher rates of mood disorders than whites or African-Americans.”

"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 lead author Kathleen Merikangas, PhD, of NIMH. “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.”

The study also appears in Pediatrics.