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New NIMH Study Indicates that Mental Illness Exacts Heavy Toll Beginning in Youth

June 2005

A study released by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and that despite effective treatments, there are often long delays between the onset of symptoms and when people seek treatment. This delay in treatment, the study reveals, can lead to a more severe, more difficult-to-treat illness as well as the development of co-occurring mental illnesses.

The National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R), a four-paper document, reported in the June 6 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry by Ronald Kessler, Ph.D., and colleagues, documents the prevalence and severity of specific mental disorders. The study was a collaborative project between Harvard University, the University of Michigan and the NIMH Intramural Research Program.

The study, an expanded replication of the 1990 National Comorbidity Survey, will allow researchers to determine the degree of disability and the economic burden caused by mental illness, as well as trends over time. The expansion includes detailed measures that will significantly improve estimates of the severity and persistence of mental disorders, and the degree to which they impair individuals and families and burden employers and the U.S. economy.

"These studies confirm a growing understanding about the nature of mental illnesses across the lifespan," says Thomas Insel, M.D., director of the National Institute of Mental Health. "There are many important messages from this study, but perhaps none as important as the recognition that mental disorders are the chronic disorders of young people in the U.S."

To learn more about the study, visit the NIMH Web site.

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