Study: Mental Health Care Increases in Children and Adolescents

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A study published by JAMA Psychiatry concludes that from the years 1995-2010, mental health care increased among adolescents and children more rapidly it did among the adult population.

Study Specifics

For review, the team analyzed data collected from the National Ambulatory Care surveys during this time period.

The researchers used the following criteria indicative of a mental health visit or treatment:

  • a mental disorder diagnosis
  • psychotropic prescriptions
  • psychotherapy provision
  • visits to a psychiatrist

Based on these indicators, the team discovered that mental health care visits increased more rapidly and significantly among youth than adults; they conclude that this is likely due to the fact that increasingly, pediatricians and other non-psychiatric physicians are providing mental health care to their young patients.  These increases included a rise in disruptive behavior disorder diagnoses, mood disorders, anxiety disorders and psychotic/developmental disorders.

More specifically, mental health disorder diagnoses nearly doubled among children and adolescents, while diagnoses in adults remained consistent over the course of the study; psychotherapy sessions remained constant among both groups.

Reasons for Youth Mental Health Visits

The greatest increase in mental health visits was due to anxiety and nervousness; visits for restlessness actually decreased.  In comparison, adult visits for depression, anger and restlessness decreased.

The most common mental health diagnoses among youth were disruptive behavior disorders, but the team also discovered increases in the diagnoses of anxiety disorders, mood disorders and psychoses/developmental disorders.

According to the JAMA article, there are several possible reasons for the increase in diagnoses and prescriptions among youth:

  • Perceptions of Mental Health Issues – Over the study time frame, there is much less stigma surrounding mental illness and mood disorders. Much has changed in the mental health care realm since Sylvia Plath, author of The Bell Jar, was institutionalized for psychiatric problems.The horrors described in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are thankfully, a thing of the past.
  • Greater Awareness – Since the mid-nineties, much has been learned about ADHD and other disorders among children and adolescents. Teachers have learned to assess at-risk students and parents have been exposed to a push in public awareness regarding ADHD and other disorders
  • The Advent of Newer Drugs — During this time period, Prozac and other SSRI’s were approved by the FDA. Research into psychotropic drugs and antidepressants began to clear the way for non-psychiatrist physicians to prescribe medications for their patients’ mental health.

Researchers conclude that the results of the study emphasize a need to create greater lines of communications between various medical disciplines when it comes to patient mental health and wellness.

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