Prevalence of Child and Adolescent Mental Disorders
Four million children and adolescents in this country struggle with a serious mental disorder that causes significant functional impairments at home, at school, and with peers. Twenty-one percent of our nation’s children ages 9 to 17 have a diagnosable mental or addictive disorder that causes at least minimal impairment (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).
Half of all lifetime cases of mental disorders begin by age 14. Despite effective treatments, there are long delays—sometimes decades—between the first onset of symptoms and when people seek and receive treatment. An untreated mental illness can lead to more severe symptoms and the development of co-occurring mental illnesses (National Institute of Mental Health).
In any given year, only 20 percent of children with mental illnesses are identified and receive mental health services (U. S. Public Health Service, Report of the Surgeon General’s Conference on Children’s Mental Health).
Consequences of Untreated Mental Illnesses in Children and Adolescents
According to David Satcher, M.D., former Surgeon General of the United States, “Suicide is a national public health problem” and “Suicide is our most preventable form of death.” More teenagers die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined (National Strategy for Suicide Prevention: Goals and Objectives for Action, 2001).
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth aged 15 to 24.
The Ohio Department of Mental Health reports that over 20 percent of high school students have seriously considered suicide, 14 percent have made a plan, and 8 percent have made a suicide attempt.
Failure in School
According to National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than 50 percent of students age 14 and older with a mental disorder drop out of high school—the highest dropout rate of any disability group.
Juvenile and Criminal Justice Involvement
Youth with unidentified and untreated mental illnesses also tragically end up in jails and prisons. According to a NIMH funded study—the largest such study on this issue—an alarming 65 percent of boys and 75 percent of girls in juvenile detention have at least one mental illness. We are incarcerating youth with mental illnesses, some as young as eight years old, rather than identifying their illnesses early and intervening with appropriate treatment and supports (Teplin, L., Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol. 59, December 2002).
Spiraling Higher Health Care Costs
When children with untreated mental illnesses become adults, they generally use more health care services and incur higher health care costs than other adults. Left untreated, childhood illnesses are likely to persist and lead to a downward spiral of school failure, limited or non-existent employment opportunities, and poverty in adulthood. No other illnesses harm so many children so seriously (New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, Achieving the Promise: Transforming Mental Health Care in America. Final Report, 2003).
Early Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment are Essential to Recovery and Resiliency
Research shows that early identification and intervention can minimize the long-term disability of mental disorders (New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, Achieving the Promise: Transforming Mental Health Care in America. Final Report, 2003).
Mental illnesses in children and adolescents are real and can be effectively treated, especially when identified and treated early.
Research has yielded important advances in the development of effective treatment for children and adolescents living with mental illness. Early identification and treatment prevents the loss of critical developmental years that cannot be recovered and helps youth avoid years of unnecessary suffering (The National Advisory Mental Health Council Workgroup on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Intervention Development and Deployment, Blueprint for Change: Research on Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 2001).
Early and effective mental health treatment can prevent a significant proportion of delinquent and violent youth from future violence and crime (U.S. Surgeon General, Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General, 2001). It also enables children and adolescents to succeed in school, to develop socially, and to fully experience the developmental opportunities of childhood.