New Study Says More Kids Are Getting The Mental Health Treatment They Need

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A new study shows that Americans are paying more attention to mental health problems in children, but adults aren’t improving as quickly. While this means many children are receiving mental health treatment that wouldn’t have in the past, the new findings could also fuel the concern about the possible over-medication of children in our society.

“On the one hand kids who needed treatment are now getting treatment and benefiting from it,” study researcher Dr. Mark Olfson, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University in New York, told LiveScience. “On the other hand, there’s a large increase in prescription of stimulants for adolescents, which is potentially problematic.”

Smiling Young GirlDr. Olfson used the non-medical use of prescription drugs on college campuses across America as an example for why we should be cautious about our current practices with prescribing stimulants, as it points to a larger problem of substance abuse.

The doctors reviewed doctor visits by children, adolescents, and adults between 1995 and 2010, and found that by the end of the study period fifteen percent of all youths below the age of 20 who visited the doctor were diagnosed with a mental disorder. This is almost double from the eight percent who were diagnosed in 1995.

According to the report published in the Nov. 27 edition of JAMA Psychiatry, the diagnosis rates for adults has increased as well, but not as quickly as it has for children. In 2010, 28 percent of all adults who visited a doctor were diagnosed with a mental disorder, but this is only a five percent increase from the rate of 23 percent in 1995.

There are numerous possible contributing factors which could potentially explain the difference between childhood and adult mental health diagnosis rates. For starters, it is obvious that adults were already much more likely to be diagnosed than youths, so less improvement still means more adults are being diagnosed than children and there was less room for improvement from the start.

However, there has also been a push for greater public acceptance of mental health treatment for children in recent years which appears to have gained some footing within our society.

The researchers also saw that doctors were also prescribing medication for mental health issues at much higher rates than in 1995. Both adults and children were roughly twice as likely to receive medication by the end of the study period. Interestingly, nonpsychiatric physicians such as pediatricians and general practitioners may be responsible for the increased medication rates.

“Pediatricians are becoming increasingly willing to treat psychiatric issues such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], anxiety and mood disorders,” Olfson said.

The increased rates of treatment for mental health issues in children is largely positive. While there will always be those who slip through the system without the help they need, it is always promising to see more people getting that treatment than before. However, there is already a concern throughout the country about how many children are being prescribed stimulants. The findings of this study aren’t going to make those worries go away.

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