Mental health disorders increase in children and adolescents

Some experts think that the increase in cases of mental health problems or disorders in children and adolescents (for example, ADHD and depression, which are the most common) could be because parents are more alert to these conditions since they are more likely to be diagnosed. However, the numbers do not lie and there is no doubt that, globally, mental health disorders are hurting our youth in a significant way: they affect one in 5 children or young people!

The confusion at the first signs

Mental health problems or disorders are very frequent. When the first symptoms or the first signs appear it can cause confusion or even fear for the person who suffers it and / or for the family. In most cases, it is nobody’s fault. Many research studies are being conducted to try to understand the causes of mental health disorders. Seeking professional help is not a sign of weakness, on the contrary, it is a sign of maturity and strength. That is the first step to improve mental health problems. Many children and adolescents with these conditions overcome their problems and live happy and productive lives.

Statistics of affected children and adolescents

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) approximately 20% of children and adolescents worldwide have problems or mental health disorders. Half of them begin before age 14 and the disorders are similar in different cultures. Neuro-psychiatric disorders are the ones that cause the most disabilities worldwide. Unfortunately, regions that have the highest percentages of inhabitants under 19 have the most limited resources. According to WHO, most low and middle-income countries only have one child psychiatrist for every 1 to 4 million people.


According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI, for its acronym in English:

  • 20% of young people between the ages of 13 and 18 have a mental health problem.
  • 11% have an emotional disorder
  • 10% have a behavior or behavior disorder
  • 8% have an anxiety related disorder
  • They agree with WHO that half begin by age 14
  • 75% of mental health problems begin at age 24
  • Mental health problems are the third cause of death in young people between the ages of 10 and 24
  • 90% of those who die by suicide  had a background mental health problem
  • Half of students 14 years of age and older with a mental illness do not finish high school

Other findings

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty :

  • Between 20% and 30% of adolescents have at least one episode of severe depression before reaching adulthood.
  • Between 50% and 7% of adolescents with anxiety disorders and with impulse control disorders (such as behavioral disorders or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD or ADHD ) develop them during adolescence.
  • 500,000 and one million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 attempt suicide every year in the United States alone.
  • Mental health problems increase in complexity and intensify in adolescence.
  • The frequency of negative results in health problems among adolescents
  • Health problems can lead to poor school performance, to not ending school, to poor family relationships, to the use or abuse of drugs , to sexual behaviors that put them at risk  or that lead to the juvenile justice system having to Intervene in their lives.
  • It is estimated that about 70% of young people in the juvenile justice system have a mental health disorder.

What are the signs of ALERT?

According to NAMI, the warning signs for mental health problems are as follows:

  • Feeling tired or moving away from other people for more than 2 weeks (for example: crying frequently, feeling tired, not wanting to do anything, without motivation).
  • Try to hurt yourself, kill yourself or make plans to do it.
  • Not being under control, having risky behaviors that can cause harm to oneself or others.
  • Sudden fear for no reason, sometimes associated with elevation in the rhythm of the heart, physical discomfort or rapid breathing.
  • Stop eating, vomiting or using laxatives to lose weight; significant weight loss or gain
  • Variations in mood that cause problems in relationships with other people.
  • Use of drugs or  recurring alcohol .
  • Drastic changes in behavior, personality or sleeping habits (for example: waking up early and acting agitatedly).
  • A lot of difficulty concentrating or staying still that leads to failure in school.
  • Exaggerated concerns or fears that interfere with daily activities such as going out with friends or attending school.

A recent report

Recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, in collaboration with three agencies: SAMHSA ( Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration ), NIH ( National Institute of Mental Health ) and HRSA ( Health Resources and Services Administration ) published the first report describing the number of American children between the ages of 3 and 17 with mental health problems between 2005 and 2011. Key findings include:

  • Millions of children in the US live with depression, anxiety, ADHD  , autism spectrum disorders , Tourette syndrome , and a variety of other mental health conditions.
  • ADHD was the most prevalent diagnosis among children between 3 and 17 years.
  • The number of children with mental disorders increases with age, except for the autism spectrum disorder that is higher among children between 6 and 11 years of age.
  • Boys tended to have ADHD  , behavioral and behavioral problems, autism spectrum disorders (autism) , anxiety, Tourette syndrome and cigarette dependence more often than girls.
  • Teenage men between 12 and 17 years tended to die by suicide more than women.
  • Teen women tended to have more depression  and alcohol use disorder than men.

Data obtained from various sources between 2005 and 2011 showed that:

Children between 3 and 17 years old in the United States had:

  • ADHD  (6.8%)
  • Behavior or behavior problems (3.5%)
  • Anxiety (3.0%)
  • Depression (2.1%)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (1.1%)
  • Tourette syndrome (0.2% Among children 6 to 17 years old)

Teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 in the United States had:

  • Disorder of the use of illegal drugs in the last year (4.7%)
  • Alcohol use disorder in the last year (4.2%)
  • Dependence on cigarettes in the last month (2.8%)

What can parents do?

NAMI recommends that:

  • talk to your children’s pediatrician,
  • get a recommendation to go with a mental health specialist,
  • collaborate with your children’s school,
  • and get in touch with other families.

Of course we all have a role in this public health problem. Young people should know that if they feel sad, worried or angry, they should talk with a friend, family member or adult. Teachers and administrators in schools should remember the importance of early detection and of referring students with a trained professional. Finally, pediatricians and health professionals should also be alert to early detection to start treatment as soon as possible.

Diagnostic Challenges

There are several challenges to achieve diagnosis and treatment that could help reduce mental health problems and disorders in children and adolescents, including (and not the only, but very important) lack of access to health insurance or coverage. If you are a citizen or your children were born here, they may qualify for free or very low-cost medical coverage. Get informed You may qualify with low-income medical coverage options for Medi-Cal or Medicaid, you can get information at a local human agency agency.

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