Child mental health counselor talking with an adolescent.

Understanding Adolescent and Children’s Mental Health Statistics

As a parent or guardian, it’s natural to worry about your child’s health, and it can be scary when you start noticing signs of a mental health struggle in your son or daughter.

Current child mental health statistics show that mental health disorders are more common than you may realize. (In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that nearly half of all adolescents experience a mental health disorder at some point in their lives.) It’s important to seek help when you notice emotional distress, because in many cases, these issues can be part of a larger problem. Every single day, young children and adolescents are treated for mental illnesses — and successfully. There is help out there!

*If you think your child might have a mental health disorder, do not self-diagnose. Instead, reach out to a mental health care provider.

Mental Health Statistics: Children and Adolescents

Mental health problems, conditions, and illnesses in children don’t always look exactly like they do in adults. Sometimes, a child might be perceived as simply misbehaving or having trouble focusing at school. If those symptoms evolve into severe behaviors or last a long time, though, it could be an indication of something more.

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According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, a national survey determined that one in six U.S. children ages six to 17 currently has a treatable mental illness like depression, an anxiety disorder, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Unfortunately, the study also discovered that only half of those children received counseling or treatment from a mental health professional following diagnosis from their primary care physician.

The Importance of Children’s Mental Health

Children and adolescents are certainly not immune to mental health problems. In fact, the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that half of all lifetime mental illness begins by the time a person is 14 years old. However, most do not seek mental health treatment until late adolescence or adulthood.

Mental health issues impact many aspects of life — from social relationships to academic success. Untreated, they can lead to serious consequences, including drug abuse, poor academic performance, antisocial behavior, conflicts with parents and family members, alcohol abuse, dropping out of school early, and suicide attempts.

It’s important to note that mental health disorders should not be confused with everyday mental health issues. While everyone feels stressed or sad at times, mental health disorders require professional evaluation and treatment. As a parent or guardian, it helps to recognize the warning signs that your child’s mental health needs might require additional support.

Signs of Adolescent or Child Mental Health Disorders

    • Sadness and/or irritability
    • Sleep problems
    • Drop-in school performance or attendance
    • Extreme mood swings
    • Withdrawal from friends and family
    • Loss of interest
    • Loss of energy
    • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
    • Changes in eating habits
    • Self-harm or suicidal thoughts
    • Substance use

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common mental health disorders among pediatric age patients, and according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), it can last through adolescence and into adulthood. Symptoms of ADHD include trouble paying attention, impulsive behaviors, and being overly active.

If you believe your child has ADHD, it’s important to not self-diagnose. Many children are overactive or have trouble focusing without having a disorder, so please be sure to consult a professional.

Eating Disorders in Youth Ages 8 to 22

There are numerous types of eating disorders (including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorders) and a variety of factors contribute to the likelihood of a child or young adult developing disordered eating habits. Common contributors include low self-esteem, genetics, cultural impacts, trauma, societal pressure, and more. Excessive or long-term dieting is also considered disordered eating.

According to ANAD (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders), 46% of nine to 11-year-olds diet often. It has also been discovered that 42% of first to third-grade girls have a desire to be thinner, with a staggering 81% of ten-year-olds feeling afraid of being overweight. 35 to 57% of adolescent girls have tried crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, diet pills, or even laxatives.

Eating disorders are highly prevalent in America and can be deadly if not treated. It may be hard to spot in a loved one or recognize it within yourself. If you have concerns, please reach out to a professional.

Substance Abuse in Adolescents

Substance use disorder is a chronic disease where people become addicted to alcohol or other substances. According to Trust for America’s Health, 90% of adults with substance use disorder began using before they were 18 years old, so prevention programs are crucial to stopping these problems before they escalate. The earlier that addiction treatment begins, the higher chance of success.

Teenagers and young adults are especially at risk for abusing substances. They could be looking for an escape from depression or anxiety symptoms, trying to feel more like an “adult,” experimenting out of curiosity, or simply consuming alcohol or drugs because “everyone is doing it.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 4.1% of adolescents aged 12 to 17 had a substance use disorder in 2018-2019. Specifically, 1.6% had an alcohol use disorder and 3.2% abused illicit drugs.

Anxiety Disorders In Young People

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders are the leading cause of disability among young people. Of these issues, anxiety disorders are the most prevalent in older adolescents. Both depression and anxiety problems can affect a child’s performance in school or even their attendance. They may also begin to withdraw socially from their peers and family. According to the CDC, 9.4% of children aged three to 17 are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, which is approximately 5.8 million people.

Depression Prevalence in Children

The CDC reports that approximately 4.4% of adolescents (about 2.7 million) were diagnosed with depression between 2016 and 2019. From 2003 to 2012, this number increased by 3%.

It is expected that this number has continued to increase, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting children’s school life and extracurricular activities. In the past year, 15.1% of adolescents aged 12 to 17 had a major depressive episode with 36.7% experiencing persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Unfortunately, mental health conditions often co-occur, meaning that a person can suffer from both an anxiety disorder and depression. This is also true with child and adolescent mental health.

According to the CDC, three in four children with depression also experience anxiety. Behavioral health problems are also known to occur alongside depression, anxiety, or both. One in three children with behavior problems also has anxiety.

Suicide Prevention in Children

Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15 to 19-year-olds, according to the WHO fact sheet. For every suicide, there are many more people who have attempted it, which is why mental health services are so important. Young children who receive help or treatment for their low feelings or mental health disorder are much more likely to improve their mental health and overall well-being. It’s never too late. If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is here.

*If this is an emergency, please call 911 or the suicide helpline at 1-800-273-8255.

Find Mental Health Treatment Today

As you can tell from the child mental health statistics mentioned above, mental illness has a high prevalence among adolescents. If you are noticing signs that your child needs help managing their mental health, call Meridian HealthCare today. We offer counseling, treatment, prevention programs, and other mental health resources.

When your family is ready, so are we.