NIMH Survey Finds Onset of Mental Illness More Likely to Begin in Adolescence

June 20, 2012

NIMH Survey Finds Onset of Mental Illness More Likely to Begin in Adolescence

[caption id="attachment_1643" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Chances are, at least one of these teens has a mental disorder."][/caption] It has been a long-held belief within the field that most mental health disorders begin to manifest in late childhood and adolescence. This theory makes sense for a number of reasons. Adolescence is a time when the developing body and mind are overrun by hormonal triggers that are likely to spark underlying genetic disorders, such as bi-polar disorder. In addition, the added stress of social assimilation in junior high and high school lead to a number of problems which include anxiety and eating disorders among young women and substance abuse problems among young men. In an effort to corroborate this theory and continue to study the effects and prevalence of mental health disorders among teens, the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) conducted a widespread face-to-face survey of over 10,000 teens. This survey, called the National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement (NCS-AS) was conducted in 2010. It found that fully 20% of U.S. teens aged 13-18 were affected by some sort of mental health disorder including behavioral disorders like ADHD and mood disorders like anxiety and depression. In an effort to further study the degree of mental health issues among teens in our population, two researchers, Kathleen Merikangas, Ph.D. from NIMH and Ron Kessler, Ph.D. from Harvard University, along with a team of collecgues decided to look further into the severity of these mental health disorders among the U.S. adolescent population. Their mission: to identify those with what the team labeled severe emotional disturbances (SED). As defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHA), SEDs are “mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder[s] … that resulted in functional impairment which substantially interferes with or limits the child’s role or functioning in family, school, or community activities.” Of the respondents to the original NIMH survey, 8% were found to have SEDs. The Take Away The results of this research were published in the April 2012 issue of the Archives of General Psychology and they point to a very important relationship between adolescent mental and emotional health and the system put in place to help and protect them, namely, schools. Since the assumption that mental illness largely manifests in the teen years has seems to be confirmed here, making sure that parents and the school system are equipped to help these young people is essential. This is especially important for those with SEDs, who are far more likely to struggle outside of high school in terms of both successfully completing a college education as well as finding long-term, gainful employment. Though these numbers are fairly consistent throughout the U.S., there are still pockets of higher prevalence for certain disorders as well as indications that seem to make certain ethnic groups more susceptible to certain disorders. All in all, a more thorough look into these differences would also serve to help parents and school support staff identify teens who may be suffering in silence and get them the help they need.



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