Most teens with mental health problems not receiving the treatment they need

Only a minority of teenagers who are grappling with mental, emotional and behavioral conditions receive treatment, a new study shows. Among those who did receive treatment, it was often in service settings in which there were few providers who had specialist mental health training.

Researchers from Duke University, the National Institutes of Health and Harvard University reviewed data of more than 10,000 teens to assess service rates for psychiatric disorders over a 12-month period. The data was from the National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement, and included teens between the ages of 13 and 17.

Their findings included: 

  • Only 45 percent of teens received service of some kind for their psychiatric disorders;
  • The most likely disorders to be addressed were ADHD, conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder;
  • Specific phobias and anxiety disorders were the least likely to be treated;
  • Teens with any type of mental, emotional or behavioral disorder were more likely to receive treatment in school (23.6%) or specialty mental health settings (22.8%), as opposed to a general medical setting (10.1%). 
  • Black teens were significantly less likely to receive treatment for any psychiatric disorder

In a press release from Duke University, lead author E. Jane Costello said:

“It’s still the case in this country that people don’t take psychiatric conditions as seriously as they should. … This, despite the fact that these conditions are linked to a whole host of other problems.”

Costello is a professor of psychology and epidemiology and the associate director of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy. The study, “Services for Adolescents With Psychiatric Disorders: 12-Month Data From the National Comorbidity Survey–Adolescent,” was published online this month in the journal Psychiatric Services.

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