One in 10 children and teens in the United States have mental health disorders that are severe enough to affect their functioning at home or at school, and according to researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health, Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the majority of mental health disorders seen in adults begin by childhood or adolescence.
Researchers surveyed 9,282 adults between February 2001 and April 2003. The study participants noted whether they'd ever been diagnosed with:
- anxiety disorders (such as panic disorder, phobias, posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or separation anxiety disorder)
- mood disorders (such as depression or bipolar disorders)
- impulse-control disorders (such as intermittent explosive disorder, oppositional-defiant disorder, conduct disorder, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
- substance use disorders (such as alcohol or drug abuse or dependence)
People who had been diagnosed with mental health disorders also reported the age at which symptoms of the disorder were first noted.
The three most common chronic mental health disorders that affected adults were major depressive disorder (17%), alcohol abuse (13%), and phobias (12%). Anxiety disorders in general accounted for 29% of the diagnosed disorders, followed by impulse-control disorders, which accounted for 25%. Mood disorders accounted for 21% of the diagnosed disorders, and substance use disorders made up 15% of the diagnoses. Nearly half of all of the study participants had been diagnosed with at least one type of mental health disorder, and 28% of the study participants had been diagnosed with two or more disorders.
In addition, researchers discovered that half of all mental disorders start by age 14 and 75% develop by 24 years of age. Anxiety disorders and impulse-control disorder, on average, start by age 11, and substance use disorders start at an average age of 20. Mood disorders start, on average, at age 30.
What This Means to You: Most mental health disorders - which affected half of the people in this large study at some time during the course of their lives - tend to start in adolescence and early adulthood. The good news is that with early treatment and care, many children and teens with these disorders can live happy, productive lives. If you notice signs of depression, anxiety, substance use, or impulse-control problems in your child, talk to your child's doctor or a mental health professional.
Source: Ronald C. Kessler, PhD; Patricia Berglund, MBA; Olga Demler, MA, MS; Robert Jin, MA; Kathleen R. Merikangas, PhD; Ellen E. Walters, MS; Archives of General Psychiatry, June 2005; National Institute of Mental Health, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/childqa.cfm#readNow
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: July 2005