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CDC: One in Five Kids Lives with a Mental Health Issue

By Stephanie Dinkmeyer, NAMI Communications Intern

Millions of American children are living with mental disorders. Reports and studies have shown that it’s nearly one in five. But a newly published six-year study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shed some light on the specifics behind the numbers.

Between 2005 and 2011, the CDC collected data from studies performed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH),  the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), and others, concerning mental disorder diagnoses in children aged 3 to 17. The report also revealed a decrease in substance use disorders in children aged 12 to 17 from 2002 to 2011.

The study covers a breadth of disorders, including but not limited to ADHD, depression, anxiety, substance use disorders and Tourette’s syndrome. ADHD was the most common disorder to affect the children studied, at 6.8 percent. Tourette’s syndrome was the least common, at less than 0.5 percent.

The study also revealed gender disparities. ADHD and conduct disorders such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) are more common in boys; over twice as common in the latter case. Autism spectrum disorders (ASD), too, are more prevalent in boys.

Mood disorders, however, are shown to be more common in girls. While depression is just as prevalent in both genders, inequalities arise with age. Girls aged 14 to 16 are more likely to have been diagnosed or currently diagnosed with depression. This data is consistent with the fact that adult women are more prone to depression.

The report’s focus on mental health also included surveys about adolescent’s drug, alcohol and tobacco use. Although 1.7 million adolescents (classified as 12 to 17 year olds) are diagnosed with a substance use disorder every year, this number is almost a 2 percent decrease since 2002.

The CDC’s source for this data, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), differentiates between substance dependence and substance use disorder based on criteria such as tolerance, emotional and physical problems associated with the substance, withdrawal symptoms, and legal trouble.

As the first exhaustive report of childhood mental disorders of its kind, the CDC’s report has proven to be a critical first step in understanding the children affected. Although the new and controversial Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) may have an impact on the approach to these disorders in the years ahead, the groundwork for providing effective services to children and their families has been laid.


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