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US Teens ‘Disproportionately Affected By Mental Disorders’

October 15, 2010

One in four US teenagers report having a mood, behavior or anxiety disorder that interferes with their daily life, while 1 in 2 actually meet the criteria for a mental disorder, according to new research.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, found that 51 percent of boys and 49 percent of girls ages 13 to 19 have some type of anxiety or substance use disorder.

In 22 percent of the teens surveyed, the disorder was so severe it obstructed them from doing daily activities and caused them great distress, said study leader Kathleen Merikangas of the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH).

“The prevalence of severe emotional and behavior disorders is even higher than the most frequent major physical conditions in adolescence, including asthma or diabetes,” the study said.

About 9 percent of all US children have asthma and less than 1 percent of all people under 20 have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Yet, mental problems do not get the same attention from health authorities even though they cost families around $250,000,000 a year, says the study.

Merikangas and colleagues analyzed data from the National Comorbidity Study-Adolescent Supplement, which surveyed more than 10,000 US teens.

The researchers found that roughly 1 in 3 teens met the criteria for the most common mental disorder in American youth, anxiety, which include social phobia and panic attacks. Anxiety disorders also had the earliest median onset age, occurring in children as young as six years old.

Behavior disorders, which include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, were the next most common condition with 19.1 percent, followed by mood disorders, which includes depression, with 14.3 percent.

Mental disorder rates in teens mirror those seen in adults, suggesting that most adults develop mental problems before reaching adulthood.

Researchers say that earlier intervention and prevention, and more research are needed to determine what the risk factors are for mental disorders in children.

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