Most teen mental health problems go untreated
More than half of adolescents with psychiatric disorders receive no treatment of any sort, says a new study by E. Jane Costello, a Duke University professor of psychology and epidemiology and associate director of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy. When treatment does occur, the providers are rarely mental health specialists, says the study, which was based on a survey of more than 10,000 American teenagers.
The country’s mental health system has come under scrutiny in recent years, following a string of mass shootings, such as the murders at Columbine High in Colorado, in which mental illness seems to have played a role. The new study underlines the need for better mental health services for adolescents, Costello said.
“It’s still the case in this country that people don’t take psychiatric conditions as seriously as they should,” Costello said. “This, despite the fact that these conditions are linked to a whole host of other problems.”
Costello noted that not all teens in the study fared the same. Treatment rates varied greatly for different mental disorders, for instance. Adolescents with ADHD, conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder received mental health care more than 70 percent of the time. By contrast, teens suffering from phobias or anxiety disorders were the least likely to be treated. Results also varied greatly by race, with black youths significantly less likely to be treated for mental disorders than white youths.
The care that teenagers received also varied greatly. In many cases, care was provided by pediatricians, school counselors or probation officers rather than by people with specialized mental health training. There simply are not enough qualified child mental health professionals to go around, Costello said.
“We need to train more child psychiatrists in this country,” Costello said. “And those individuals need to be used strategically, as consultants to the school counselors and others who do the lion’s share of the work.”
Teen Mental Health
Being a teenager is hard. You’re under stress to be liked, do well in school, get along with your family, and make big decisions. You can’t avoid most of these pressures, and worrying about them is normal. But feeling very sad, hopeless or worthless could be warning signs of a mental health problem.
Mental health problems are real, painful, and sometimes severe. You might need help if you have the signs mentioned above, or if you
Often feel very angry or very worried
Feel grief for a long time after a loss or death
Think your mind is controlled or out of control
Use alcohol or drugs
Exercise, diet and/or binge-eat obsessively
Hurt other people or destroy property
Do reckless things that could harm you or others
Mental health problems can be treated. To find help, talk to your parents, school counselor, or health care provider.
The study draws on data from the National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement, a nationally representative face-to-face survey of 10,148 adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17. It was published online Nov. 15 in Psychiatric Services.
Signs Your Teen Needs Mental Health Treatment
Mental illness includes depression; anxiety; bipolar disorder; schizophrenia; borderline personality disorder; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); attention-deficit disorder (ADD); attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and many more disorders that can interfere with your teen’s daily life.
In an effort to self-medicate - to control the symptoms of the undiagnosed and untreated mental illness - a teen without help may turn to drugs, alcohol, or eating disorders to feel better, to escape, to numb out, or to feel in control.
Below are some ways to tell if your teen may need mental health treatment.
Mood swings. How can you decipher a moody teen from a true set of mood swings that indicate mental illness? You know your child better than anyone else. Trust that you can recognize a shift in mood that is out of character for your son or daughter.
Behavioral changes. The same thing goes for your child’s behavior. Of course behavioral choices change as your teen gets older, but if your son or daughter is presenting as a different person to you, this may indicate a mental illness or substance abuse.
Consequences in school and among friends. A mental illness can distract from concentration, which can affect school performance and the ability to sustain relationships with peers.
Physical symptoms. Decreased energy, changes in eating and sleeping, frequent stomachaches, headaches, and backaches, and neglect of personal appearance and hygiene (such as showering less often and not keeping up on grooming) can be signs that mental health treatment is needed.
Self-medicating. If you find any indicators of drug or alcohol use, self-harm, an eating disorder, or other forms of escape, the link to mental illness may be direct. An effort to make oneself feel better can show a great need for mental health treatment.
If you see any of these signs, seek help for your child. With appropriate assessment, identification, and intervention, all mental illnesses can be treated and managed.
By Jared Friedman
The research was supported by NIDA (grants U01-DA024413, DA011301, and DA022308), NIMH (grant MH083964), and the NIMH Intramural Research Program.
CITATION: “Services for Adolescents With Psychiatric Disorders: 12-Month Data From the National Comorbidity Survey–Adolescent,” E. Jane Costello, Jian-ping He, Nancy A. Sampson, Ronald C. Kessler and Kathleen Ries Merikangas. Psychiatric Services 2013. doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.201100518