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Opinion Northwest

Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

May 29, 2013 at 6:30 AM

CDC: One in 5 American kids has mental disorder

(Donna Grethen/Tribune Media Services)

(Donna Grethen/Tribune Media Services)

One in five U.S.  kids  currently has a mental disorder.  That is a lot of kids and the number has been rising for more than a  decade, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report,  “Mental Health Surveillance Among Children.”

Even scarier, only 21 percent of these children are getting treatment because of a shortage of pediatric sub-specialists and child and adolescent psychiatrists, reports The Washington Post. The Post article points to troubled children living in rural and urban areas as the most likely to be under served because of the shortage and because few new doctors are specializing in pediatric mental health.

It should go without saying that 20 percent of people ages 3-17 undoubtedly places some of them here, making this a local issue that would benefit from attention by local schools, county and state governments.

The CDC relied on federal studies, medical insurance claims, public health reports, telephone surveys and other research from 2005 to 2011 for its first comprehensive look at the mental health status of children.  One CDC-cited study found that from 1997 to 2010, mood disorders were among the main causes of hospital stays among children. The analysis of insurance claims found a 24 percent increase in children hospitalized for  mental health and/or substance abuse between 2007 to 2010. Psychotropic drug use by teens increased over the same period.

This is a major public health issue and its prevalence, early onset, and impact on the child, family, and community is costly. The CDC estimates annual costs of $247 billion spent on health care, on services such as special education and juvenile justice, and for decreased productivity. Families without medical insurance often turn to public schools and community health organizations for help, underscoring the challenges faced by those institutions. Broadening access to mental health services is a clear need but the Washington Post story points out the difficulty of doing that with so few doctors and mental health professionals available. resources.

 A New York Times series captures the full scope of issues surrounding mental health illnesses in young people.  Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder was the most prevalent parent-reported current diagnosis among children aged 3–17 years with 6.8 percent, or 1 in 14 kids. After ADHD, the top four mental disorders in children are:

Behavioral or conduct problem:  3.5 percent, or 1 in 28 

Anxiety: 3 percent, or 1 in 33

Depression: 2.1 percent, or 1 in 50

Autism spectrum disorders: 1.1 percent, or 1 in 100

The National Alliance on Mental Illnesses offers a substantial list of resources for families.

Comments | Topics: ADHD, Autism, centers for disease control and prevention

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