|Photo by D Sharon Pruitt|
The percentage of children who met diagnostic criteria for the following disorders is listed from most to least common.
- Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) 8.6%
- Depression (Major Depression or Dysthymia) 3.7%
- Conduct Disorder 2.1%
- Anxiety (Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Panic Disorder) 0.7%
- Eating Disorder (Anorexia or Bulemia) 0.1%
Only half of the children with diagnosed disorders sought help for their symptoms in the past year. Children with disruptive behavior (ADHD and Conduct Disorder) were most likely to seek treatment. Only a third of children with an anxiety disorder received services. The children with more severe symptoms were only slightly more likely to get help. There was no information reported about type (medication, therapy, or both), length (one or more visits), or response to treatment. As a result, we don't know how many children were receiving adequate treatment.
How do the current study's estimates differ from older findings? As I noted in Children's Access to Mental Health Care, the Surgeon General's 1999 Report on Mental Health found that 1 in 5 children and adolescents had a diagnosable mental illness. This was a higher rate (20%) than is found in the NHANES study (13%). The difference is likely due to the broader range of disorders included in the Surgeon General's report.
The major strength of the NHANES study is that it provides the first estimates of the overall prevalence of specific mental disorders in children in the United States. Because the researchers used a standardized method of diagnosing the children, the results can be directly compared with local and international studies that use the same criteria. As the lead author Kathleen Merikangas, Ph.D. concludes, "Until now, there has been a dearth of reliable data on the magnitude, course and treatment patterns of mental disorders among U.S. youth. 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."
Merikangas, K., He, J., Brody, D., Fisher, P., Bourdon, K., & Koretz, D. (2009). Prevalence and Treatment of Mental Disorders Among US Children in the 2001-2004 NHANES PEDIATRICS, 125 (1), 75-81 DOI: 10.1542/peds.2008-2598