More US Young People Getting Mental Health Treatment


New research shows that the number of US children and teens being treated for mental health issues has increased by approximately 50% over the last 20 years, though most afflicted students exhibited relatively mild ailments.

The New England Journal of Medicine says that the study comes at a time when there is rising concern over the mental health treatment that our youth are receiving. Amy Norton, writing for HealthDay, reports that some are worried that children with mild symptoms are being overtreated with antidepressants, stimulants, and antipsychotic drugs, according to Dr. Mark Olfson of Columbia University in New York City.

“But we don’t know if that’s a positive or a negative development,” said Olfson. “When you’re looking at trends across the whole U.S., you can’t tell who does or doesn’t ‘need’ treatment.”

Likewise, there are children on the other end of the spectrum who have more severe symptoms who are not receiving treatment at all. Olfson and his team used information from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which showed that from 1996-1998 more than 9% of kids in the US from age 6 to 17 received mental health treatment. In 2012, about 13% were receiving some type of treatment. For the most part, children with mild symptoms were responsible for the increase in numbers.

But the relative increase was larger among kids with more serious problems. In the late 1990s, only 26% of kids with severe issues were getting some kind of therapy, while 44% were getting some manner of treatment in 2012. This is a good thing, says Brendan Saloner, an assistant professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who did not participate in the study, because it means more kids with serious problems are getting help.

“More severe impairment” means that a child is having serious problems at school, is not getting along with his friends and fellow students, or is having trouble getting along with family. For kids who have mild symptoms, the concern is whether they getting quality care. Guidelines are in place which recommend that talk therapy take place before medication, but barriers include the low number of child psychiatrists in the country, that insurance does not always pay for treatment, and difficulties faced by working parents to have their children at regular appointments.

The study showed that drug use and talk therapy increased. Still, medication came out on top of the most used treatments. A third of kids with serious impairments were taking stimulants, antidepressants, or antipsychotics. Olfson explained that the absolute numbers were somewhat small and that overall, Olfson thinks things are moving in the right direction.

It appears that serious mental problems among US kids are declining, writes Marilynn Marchione of The Huffington Post.  More kids are taking medicines for mental health issues, but more are getting the help they need.

“There’s a concern out there that a lot of children and adolescents are receiving mental health treatments, particularly medications, that they don’t need,” especially for conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, said Olfson.

Other research shows that the rates of binge drinking and dropping out of school are on the decline, but the use of such stimulants as methylphenidate, or Ritalin and other similar brands, increased by 4% of young people to 6.6%. The CDC says that 1 in 10 children are given the drug for ADHD.