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Mental Health Worries: Conflicting Truths

Even though more than 17 million children in the United States have or have had a diagnosable mental illness, many of them do not receive treatment, according to a study by the Child Mind Institute (CMI) in New York City.

On the other hand, a study published in the NEJM on trends in mental health care, finds that many more children and teens are taking mental health medications, with the biggest rise among the most troubled kids.

This represents an interesting contrast, as children who struggle with mental health disorders represent a clear public health problem, especially when, as the first study cites, fewer than 35% of affected children ever get psychiatric help.

Lack of help pushes these children into the juvenile justice system and though, as the second study suggest, there is movement in the right direction, for many a complete lack of help sets the stage for a troubled adulthood.

Though it has been identified that severe mental health problems overall are declining, inclusive of therapy and medications, there has also been an increase in the use of stimulant drugs for ADHD children.

The sad truth continues if we look at the first study’s statistics:

  • 80% of children with anxiety disorder are not getting treatment;
  • 40% of children with diagnosable attention-deficit/hyperactivity deficit disorder are not getting treatment;
  • 60% of kids with diagnosable depression are not getting treatment;
  • 70.4% of youth in juvenile justice settings meet criteria for a psychiatric diagnosis.

In addition, a JAMA Pediatrics study just published identified that suicides among young children are rare and at a low rate, yet a troubling increase among black boys can be identified, at double the rate of white boys. Combining the many points of stress, potential violence, un- or misdiagnosed mental illness, it is certain to say that a tremendous amount of unmet need exists among the young members of society. These seemingly conflicting reports, along with a vastly differing public perception, expose the gap or understanding of young people’s mental health needs. Without a well-balanced baseline of information on pediatric mental disorders, it becomes difficult to target care.