As many as 20 percent of American kids have a mental illness, says a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That means 1 in 5 children in the U.S. have a mental health disorder, a figure that might sound inflated: is there something really, really wrong with children in the U.S., or with how Americans raise kids?
Conversely, the CDC’s findings have a positive approach, as they suggest that we are doing a better job at diagnosing children with mental health issues. The report also points out that, in 2010, suicide was the second leading cause of death among children aged 12-17 in the U.S. Identifying depression, anxiety or other conditions in kids is the first step to helping them and, even more, preventing the tragedy of a child taking her or his own life.
CDC Report on U.S. Kids’ Mental Health
The CDC reports that, among children aged 6-17 years, 3.5 percent have behavioral or conduct problems, 3 percent have anxiety disorders, just over 2 percent have depression, just over 1 percent are on the autism spectrum and a small percentage (0.2) have Tourette’s Syndrome. 11 percent of school-age children — and 1 in 5 high school-age boys — have a medical diagnosis of ADHD. Treating children with these disorders, via health care, hospitals, special education or juvenile justice, is estimated to cost $247 billion annually.
It is possible that there is a real, actual increase in the number of children with mental health disorders. The CDC notes other factors, though, including changes in policies and access to health care, that could influence a child being diagnosed with ADHD or another condition. As the report says, children with health insurance had a higher prevalence of ADHD, autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and anxiety. Children without health insurance had lower rates of these and were more likely to be reported as having substance use disorders.
Education and economic levels were also found to be correlated to certain mental health conditions. The report found that, ”as household education decreased, the prevalence of parent-reported behavioral or conduct problems, depression, and anxiety increased.” In addition, households in more distressed economic circumstances had children with greater rates of these disorders, as well as ADHD and drug and cigarette use.
Race, ethnicity and economic circumstances were also linked to different rates of mental health disorders. For instance, ADHD was found to be lowest among Hispanic children, behavior or conduct problems were diagnosed at the highest rates among black non-Hispanic children and ASDs were found to be higher among white non-Hispanic children. Anxiety was more common among white non-Hispanic children than black non-Hispanic children.
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