Young Americans at risk of mental disorders

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Adolescent is difficult enough even for so called normal teenagers but a survey carried out by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and published in the October issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, has found that 20 percent of American youth will go on to develop a mental health disorder that is severe enough to interfere with their ability to function on a day to day basis. These are worrying statistics.

It has already been observed mental disorders in adults, often begin much earlier in life, and this latest survey supports that view. This is the first nationally representative survey that has shown that one in four to five children will experience a mental disorder at some point.

Dr Kathleen Merikangas of NIMH and her colleagues looked at data from the National Comorbidity Study Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A) which involved face to face interviews with more than 10,000 youngsters between the ages of 13 and 18 as well as follow up questionnaires completed by a parent or guardian.

Almost 50 percent of the participants met the diagnostic criteria for at least one mental disorder, and 20 percent suffered from a mental disorder that was severe enough to impair day to day function. Just over 10 percent suffered from depression or a mood disorder like bipolar, with a similar number developing an attention deficit disorder, and 8 percent reported suffering from anxiety.

Of those that reported having some kind of disorder, 40 percent also met the diagnostic criteria for one or more additional disorder. Anxiety was likely to start as early as 6 years of age, behaviour disorders by the age of 11, mood disorders by 13 and substance abuse by the age of 15 according to NIHM.

The researchers also noted that mental disorders in the youngsters were more common than asthma or diabetes and highlighted the importance of early intervention for those deemed at risk.

However, the NIMH say on their site that “more research is needed to better understand the risk factors for developing a mental disorder in youth, as well as how to predict which disorders may continue into adulthood”

“In addition, the researchers acknowledge the need for more prospective research to tease apart the complex interplay among socioeconomic, biological and genetic factors that may contribute to the development of mental disorders in youth.”

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