A Close Look at Kids' Mental Health

ADHD and anxiety and behavior problems prevalent in US children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) So many studies report statistics on kids' mental health that it can be hard to keep track of what the rates really are. Now all that information has been pulled together in one place.

A recent report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a comprehensive look at mental health among children in the US.

These researchers pulled data from almost a dozen different monitoring programs and surveys to determine the rates of mental disorders among those under age 8.

They reported that approximately one in every five to eight children has a mental health condition in any given year.

"Talk to a pediatrician about any mental health concerns."

The report was written by a group of CDC researchers led by Ruth Perou, PhD, of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities at the CDC.

The researchers compiled data from a wide range of surveys and monitoring programs sponsored by the CDC for the years 2005 to 2011.

The researchers pulled together the statistics on all mental health disorders occurring in those under age 18.

They reported that an estimated 13 to 20 percent of children in the US experience a mental disorder each year.

They also reported that suicide was the second leading cause of death among adolescents, aged 12 to 17, in 2010. Suicide often results from a combination of factors that usually involves mental health issues.

Boys were more likely than girls to die of suicide, though girls were more likely than boys to abuse alcohol or be depressed.

Boys also had higher rates than girls of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), behavioral or conduct problems, autism, anxiety, Tourette syndrome and smoking.

The most common condition among children aged 3 to 17 was ADHD, which 6.8 percent of children in that age group have at any one time.

A total of 3.5 percent of children aged 3 to 17 have behavioral or conduct problems, the researchers found, and 3 percent suffer from anxiety disorders.

Depression is experienced by 2 percent of kids aged 3 to 17 each year, and 1.1 percent of the children have autism.

Although less common, Tourette syndrome also is experienced by 0.2 percent of children aged 6 to 17.

For all mental conditions except autism, which is actually a developmental disorder, the number of children living with the condition increased with the age of the children.

The rate of autism was highest among children aged 6 to 11.

The researchers also looked at substance abuse among teens.

Although only 2.8 percent of those aged 12 to 17 smoke regularly, 4.7 percent had an illegal drug addiction and 4.2 had alcoholism in the past year.

The report suggested that parents talk to a healthcare professional if they have concerns about their children's behavior at home, with friends or at school.

They noted that symptoms may not stay the same for children as they get older.

"Symptoms of mental disorders change over time as a child grows, and may include difficulties with how a child plays, learns, speaks and acts or how the child handles their emotions," the researchers wrote.

"Symptoms often start in early childhood, although some disorders may develop throughout the teenage years," they wrote. "The diagnosis is often made in the school years and sometimes earlier. However, some children with a mental disorder may not be recognized or diagnosed as having one."

Glen Elliott, MD, PhD, the chief psychiatrist and medical director of Children's Health Council and a dailyRx News expert, noted that these findings carry an important message for parents.

“As parents, we long to believe that childhood is an idyllic experience that precedes the rigors of adulthood," Dr. Elliott said. "What this compilation of data demonstrates is that, although the majority of children and adolescents are doing well, a significant number of them have real behavioral and psychiatric problem and that can greatly complicate the already daunting task of moving from childhood to adulthood."

Dr. Elliott said the take-home message of these findings are that identifying mental health issues is important in children so they can receive treatment.

"Many of these conditions are treatable, emphasizing the importance of recognizing when such problems arise and seeking appropriate help," he said.

Georgia Michalopoulou, PhD, Chief of Staff/Assistant to the Chief of Child Psychiatry and Psychology, DMC Children's Hospital of Michigan added "Evaluating and diagnosing mental disorders in children is a challenging task first because during this period of dramatic and constant change in all areas of development physical, cognitive, social and emotional symptoms of mental disorders may be characteristics of normal development i.e. temper tantrums in a toddler versus an adolescent.

"Children's psychological functioning unfolds in the context of their relationships, individual differences in temperament, constitutional strengths and vulnerabilities, genetic/ biological predisposing, caregiver's response to child's individual characteristics, their acceptance, care and skill in responding to areas of difficulty, and family's cultural context."

"Early identification of developmental and mental disorders and early intervention may be one of the most important contributors to positive outcomes."

Among the surveys and programs used for the data were the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the National Health Interview Survey and the National Survey of Children's Health.

Others included the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the National Violent Death Reporting System, the National Vital Statistics System, School-Associated Violent Death Surveillance Study and the National Youth Risk Behavior Study.

The report was published as a supplement in the May 17 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 17, 2013
Last Updated:
August 12, 2013