|National Survey Tracks Rates of Common
Mental Disorders Among American Youth
Only about half of American children and teenagers who have certain
mental disorders receive professional services, according to a
nationally representative survey funded in part by the National
Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The survey also provides a comprehensive
look at the prevalence of common mental disorders.
The results are part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination
Survey (NHANES), a collaboration between NIMH and the National
Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention. The survey conducted from 2001 to 2004 had 3,042
participants. These most recent results include data from children
and adolescents ages 8 to 15, and were published online ahead of
print December 14, 2009, in the journal Pediatrics.
"Data on the prevalence of mental disorders among U.S. youth
have been varied, making it difficult to truly understand how many
children and teens are affected," said NIMH Director Thomas R.
Insel, M.D. “These data from the NHANES survey can serve as an
important baseline as we follow trends of mental disorders in children.”
In the study, the young people were interviewed directly. Parents
or caregivers also provided information about their children’s
mental health. The researchers tracked six 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.
Overall, 13 percent of respondents met criteria for having at
least one of the six mental disorders within the last year. About
1.8 percent of the respondents had more than one disorder, usually
a combination of ADHD and conduct disorder. Among the specific
- 8.6 percent had ADHD, with males more likely than females to
have the disorder;
- 3.7 percent had depression, with females more likely than males
to have the disorder;
- 2.1 percent had conduct disorder;
- 0.7 percent had an anxiety disorder (GAD or panic disorder);
- 0.1 percent had an eating disorder (anorexia or bulimia).
"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, Ph.D., 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 whites or
African-Americans, but overall, few ethnic differences in rates
of disorders emerged.
Merikangas and colleagues also found that overall, 55 percent
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 percent of
youth with an anxiety disorder sought treatment, a finding consistent
with other studies. Moreover, African-Americans and Mexican-Americans
were significantly less likely to seek treatment than whites, reiterating
the need to identify and remove barriers to treatment for minority
youth, noted the researchers.
"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
Dr. Merikangas. "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," she
The mission of the NIMH is to transform the understanding and
treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research,
paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. For more information,
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's
Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers
and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic,
clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates
the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases.
For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.