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Report: 1 out of 5 children has a mental disorder


Adapted from the MD Mama blog on Boston.com.

In your average classroom of 20 children, four of them have a mental disorder.

That’s the finding of a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s the first report to describe the number of US children ages 3 to 17 years who have specific mental disorders. Using information from various sources covering the period from 2005 to 2011, they came up with estimates for what percentage of children currently have mental disorders. The “currently” part is important: When they say that up to 1 in 5 children has a mental disorder, they mean that up to 1 in 5 has it — and needs help — now.


Here are the top five:

ADHD: 6.8 percent, or 1 in 14.

Behavioral or conduct problem: 3.5 percent, or 1 in 28.

Anxiety: 3 percent, or 1 in 33.

Depression: 2.1 percent, or 1 in 50.

Autism spectrum disorders: 1.1 percent, or 1 in 100.

Your child knows these children. Your child may be one of them.

The report also found that in 2010, suicide was the second leading cause of death among youth ages 12 to 17. You really don’t want your teen to know one of those youths — or be one of them.

That’s the thing: This does, or could, touch all of us. And not only are many mental disorders chronic diseases that children will battle for a lifetime, but also when they start in childhood they often bring family problems, school problems, and social problems that can shape a child’s life forever. This isn’t just about children; this is about tomorrow’s adults. This is about who we will be as a society.

It’s also about what we will pay as a society. The report estimates that $247 billion is spent each year on childhood mental disorders. Add to that the costs of caring for them as adults, and lost productivity, and this becomes an extremely expensive problem.


The good news is that many childhood mental health problems can be prevented, or at least improved, by giving children the support and nurturing they need — and acting early and quickly if there is a sign of a problem. As a country, we need to be sure that there are enough mental health resources, and that everyone can afford them. But there are also things that each one of us can do.

Parents: It’s important to be aware of the signs of possible mental health problems — and to ask for help if you see them. It’s also a really good idea to learn as much as you can about positive parenting.

Teachers, coaches, and others who work with youth: Learn the signs, too. Speak up. Reach out. Work with families and mental health care professionals.

Health care professionals: Never dismiss a parent’s concern — and always act on any concerns you might have.

Teens: If you are feeling angry, sad, anxious, or some other feeling that feels bad or hard, let someone know. You don’t have to handle it alone.

The CDC’s Mental Health page has more information and lots of links. Check it out.

Read this blog at Boston.com/MDMama.