How Common Is Childhood Mental Illness?

Mental illness affects children much more often than you might think.

How common is childhood mental illness? If you asked 20 mental health clinicians, you could easily get 20 different answers. This lack of consensus does not mean clinicians aren’t being well trained, or that they have poor memories. Rather, this fundamental question remains largely overlooked by psychiatric research.

But it’s a critically important question. If we want to assess how well we are meeting children’s mental health needs, we must know how many need help. The answer also has profound implications for the best approaches to prevention and treatment, and even for public acceptance of mental illness. Yet medical records are little help, offering a notoriously inadequate picture of the rates of common mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. Meanwhile, government agencies such as the National Institutes of Health do not regularly track rates of psychiatric diseases, because routine tracking on such a large scale would involve extensive diagnostic interviewing and would be quite costly.

Psychology Today

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