The number of young people in the United States with mental health problems decreased in recent years and the rate of treatment increased, yet the most seriously ill still fail to get the treatment they need, according to a study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Using data on 53,622 youth between the ages of 6 and 17 years, Mark Olfson, MD, MPH, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, and his colleagues analyzed use of mental health services over time. The researchers found that treatment rates grew significantly faster among young people with serious impairment than among those with mild illness.
The percentage of severely impaired young people who accessed mental health services grew from 26.2 percent during the period 1996-1998 to 43.9 percent in 2010-2012. Although this is a positive trend, it indicates that more than half of children and adolescents who struggle with mental health issues do not get help.
“The new findings might help efforts to increase mental health treatment of children and adolescents who are in the greatest need. Many children and adolescents in America are known by their parents to have serious mental health problems but nevertheless they do not receive treatment,” said Dr. Olfson.
“This suggests that primary care physicians, schools, and others who are concerned with child mental health need to do more to increase parents’ awareness of the availability of safe and effective treatments for ADHD, anxiety disorders, depression, and the other common psychiatric issues of childhood and adolescence.”
The use of mental health treatment among youth with less severe or no impairment increased from 6.7 percent to 9.6 percent over the same period, raising concerns about growing numbers of children and adolescents who may be receiving unnecessary psychiatric medications.
The title of the paper is “Trends in mental health care among children and adolescents.”
The co-authors are Benjamin G. Druss, MD, MPH, and Steven C. Marcus, PhD.
Funding for this research was provided by a grant (U19 HS021112) from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and by the New York State Psychiatric Institute.
The authors declare no conflicts of interest.
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