WASHINGTON, D.C. — Up to one in five American youngsters – some 7 million to 12 million by one estimate – experience a mental health disorder each year, according to a new report billed as the first comprehensive look at the mental health status of American children.
And the rate is increasing, said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which produced the study, released Thursday.
Childhood mental disorders that alter the way children learn, behave and cope with their emotions affect 13 percent to 20 percent of youths under age 18, the CDC said. They also cost families and society at large an estimated $247 billion a year in treatment, special education, juvenile justice and decreased productivity, it stated.
While the prevalence, early onset and impact on society make childhood mental problems a major public health issue, only 21 percent of affected children actually get treatment because of a national shortage of pediatric subspecialists and child and adolescent psychiatrists, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
“Our current health care system does not meet the needs of these children,” Dr. Martin J. Drell, the group’s president, said last week in a statement about the problem.
Making matters worse, fewer medical students are specializing in children’s mental health careers, while the current crop of professionals are aging out of the workforce. The dearth of providers means troubled youngsters in underserved rural and urban areas are less likely to get timely care.
“Children with serious medical conditions should not have where they live determine what kind of health care services they receive,” said Dr. Thomas K. McInerny, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The new CDC report, “Mental Health Surveillance Among Children,” summarizes federal data and research from 2005 through 2011 to provide the agency’s first comprehensive snapshot of the nation’s emotionally troubled youth.
One recent study found that from 1997 to 2010, the rate of hospital stays among children for mood disorders increased from 10 to 17 admissions per 10,000 people.
Another study, which analyzed insurance claims, found a 24 percent increase in inpatient mental health and substance abuse admissions by children from 2007 to 2010. The report also found the use of psychotropic drugs by teens had increased over the same period.
Greater awareness of mental health issues by doctors and parents, increased poverty stemming from the Great Recession and possible environmental factors could be playing a part in the increases, said Ruth Perou, child development studies team leader at the CDC.
The report comes one week after National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day on May 9 and as President Barack Obama prepares to host a June 3 mental health summit at the White House in response to recent efforts to halt gun violence.
Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, will address the report’s findings in a keynote speech at the 18th annual Rosalynn Carter Georgia Mental Health Forum in Atlanta on Friday.
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The report found suicide was more prevalent among boys than girls, and more prevalent among non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanics of other races than it was among black non-Hispanics and Hispanic children.
Among children who died by suicide, the report found nearly 30 percent made their intent known before the act, and 35.5 percent had a diagnosed mental disorder when they died. More than one in four childhood suicide victims were being treated for a mental disorder when they died, and 21 percent had made a previous suicide attempt.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder was the most commonly diagnosed problem reported by parents. It affects nearly 7 percent, or roughly 4.2 million children ages 3 to 17, Perou said. Nearly 2.2 million children in the same age group - about 3.5 percent - have behavioral or conduct problems, while nearly 2 million, or 3 percent, have anxiety issues, Perou said.
Another 1.2 million youngsters ages 3 to 17, or about 2.1 percent, suffer from depression, while 678,000, or just over 1.1 percent, suffer from autism, she said. Tourette Syndrome affects 99,000, about two-tenths of 1 percent of young people in this age group.
An estimated 40 percent of children diagnosed with one disorder have multiple mental health disorders, some of which can be linked to childhood criminal behavior, substance abuse and other risky behaviors. Among adolescents ages 12 through 17, nearly 5 percent, or 1.2 million, battle an illicit drug-use disorder, Perou said.
About 1 million, or 4.2 percent, deal with alcohol abuse disorder, and 691,000, or 2.8 percent of adolescents, have cigarette dependence, Perou said.