Mental Disorders In Children Soar

The number of children diagnosed with mental disorders is increasing, bringing with it a $247 billion annual bill, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“A total of 13%–20% of children living in the United States experience a mental disorder in a given year, and surveillance during 1994–2011 has shown the prevalence of these conditions to be increasing,” says the report “Mental Health Surveillance Among Children — United States, 2005–2011” (

Attention-deficit disorder was the most prevalent parent-reported diagnosis among children aged 3–17. Behavior or conduct problems were second (3.5%), followed by anxiety (3%), depression (2.1%), and autism spectrum disorders (1.1%).

Mental disorders are among the most costly problems to deal with in children, and the authors of the study — published as a supplement to the May 17 edition of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report — cite other studies to make the case.

“[One] included insurance claims from approximately 20% of the privately insured U.S. population aged <65 years with private insurance and weighted the data to reflect a national estimate. This study reported a 24% increase in inpatient mental health and substance abuse admissions among children during 2007–2010, as well as increases in use and cost of these services and psychotropic medications for teenagers specifically over the same period” (

The study addressed the vexing problem of just how mental disorders among children can or should be measured.

“Substantial but not insurmountable challenges to surveillance of mental disorders in children exist…. Criteria for mental disorders are subjective, are based on a symptom count instead of a biologic measure, might require assessment by different persons or in different settings, and might change over the course of development.”