Flag raised for kids’ mental health

No nationwide study of psychiatric disorders has been conducted among children and teenagers in the United States. However, a 7-year study of kids living in North Carolina indicates that at any given time 1 in 6 children had a psychiatric ailment. What’s more, at least 1 in 3 of the youngsters developed one or more psychiatric disorders by age 16, say epidemiologist E. Jane Costello of Duke University Medical School in Durham, N.C., and her coworkers.

These findings are worrisome, the researchers maintain in the August Archives of General Psychiatry. As children grow older, psychiatric disorders more often interfere with the ability to function well at home, at school, and with peers.

Costello’s team studied 1,420 children living mainly in rural areas. The kids, ages 9 to 13 at the beginning of the study, completed annual mental-health surveys through age 16.

Once children developed a psychiatric disorder, their odds of continuing to have one were much greater than those of peers with no prior psychiatric diagnosis. This trend was especially strong among girls.

For both boys and girls, by around age 15, childhood ailments, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, had largely been replaced by adult disorders such as depression, panic disorder, and substance abuse.


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Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.