Over 40% of US teenagers experience a mental health disorder in any 12 month period

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This new cross sectional study from researchers at Harvard Medical School looks at the prevalence of DSM-IV disorders in over 10,000 teenagers living in the community.

The study looked at a representative sample of young people. Homeless adolescents, school drop-outs and non-English speakers were excluded from the research, even though those who speak a different language make up a significant proportion of the US population (4%).

Researchers interviewed 10,148 adolescents aged 13-17 years old (plus one parent) and used the Composite International Diagnostic Interview to assess whether they had one of the following disorders:

  • Mood disorders (e.g. depression, bipolar disorder)
  • Anxiety disorders (e.g. panic disorder, agoraphobia, phobic disorders, generalised anxiety disorder, PTSD)
  • Behavioural disorders (e.g. ADHD, oppositional-defiant disorder, conduct disorder)
  • Eating disorders (e.g. anorexia, bulimia)
  • Substance disorders (e.g. alcohol and drug abuse)

Here’s what they found:

  • During the last 12 months, 40.3% of adolescents had a DSM-IV disorder
  • During the last 30 days, 23.4% of adolescents had a DSM-IV disorder
  • Anxiety disorders were the most common, followed by behaviour, mood, and substance disorders
  • Persistence estimates for any DSM-IV disorder were 79.5% for the 12 month to lifetime ratio, and 57.9% for the 30-day to 12-month ratio
  • Anxiety and behavioural disorders appeared to be more chronic than mood or substance disorders

This study is not without it’s limitations. The interviews that were used to measure lifetime diagnoses relied on the young people and their parents recalling previous illnesses. However, the study was well designed and the results are broadly generalisable to other countries.

The authors concluded:

Among US adolescents, DSM-IV disorders are highly prevalent and persistent. Persistence is higher for adolescents than among adults and appears to be due more to recurrence than chronicity of child-adolescent onset disorders.

Link

Kessler RC, Avenevoli S, Costello EJ, et al. Prevalence, persistence, and sociodemographic correlates of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2012;69:372–80. [PubMed abstract]

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