Contrary to claims by others, rates of mental disorders among American children and youth dropped from 1996-2012, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Nevertheless, the numbers of children with less serious impairments who are getting psychiatric treatments have been increasing.
Researchers from New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University used nationwide surveys done by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality over three periods.
“In the study, researchers analyzed mental disability in 53,622 youngsters aged 6 to 17, based on ratings provided by parents,” reported the New York Times. “The parents scored their children on a so-called impairment scale… Between 1996 and 2012, the percentage of children and teenagers in that severe category dropped to 10.7 percent from 12.8 percent. That is a 16 percent decrease, and it was entirely unexpected, said Dr. Mark Olfson, of Columbia University, the study’s lead author.”
“This study shows that the extremely high rates of childhood mental disorder reported by the C.D.C. and others result from flawed assessment methodology that includes many kids who have very mild impairment or no impairment at all,” psychiatrist Allen Frances told the New York Times.
Even though the rates of impairment dropped, the study found that “the overall rate of young people being treated for a mental disorder increased, to 13 percent from 9 percent,” reported the Times. For example, antipsychotic use increased six-fold, and antidepressant use went up nearly 60%. Overall, psychotropic drug use among children increased from 5.5% of children to 8.9%.
“(T)he absolute increase in annual service use was larger among youths with less severe or no impairment (from 2.74 million to 4.19 million) than among those with more severe impairment (from 1.56 million to 2.28 million),” stated the authors in the study. “Significant overall increases occurred in the use of psychotherapy (from 4.2% to 6.0%) and psychotropic medications (from 5.5% to 8.9%), including stimulants and related medications (from 4.0% to 6.6%), antidepressants (from 1.5% to 2.6%), and antipsychotic drugs (from 0.2% to 1.2%).”
Severe Mental Illness Found to Drop in Young, Defying Perceptions (New York Times, May 20, 2015)
Olfson, Mark, Benjamin G. Druss, and Steven C. Marcus. “Trends in Mental Health Care among Children and Adolescents.” New England Journal of Medicine 372, no. 21 (May 21, 2015): 2029–38. doi:10.1056/NEJMsa1413512. (Abstract)