Children’s Mental Illness Costs $247 Billion, U.S. Says

Mental illness in children costs $247 billion annually, a figure increasing along with the number of kids hospitalized for mood disorders, substance abuse and other psychiatric disorders, according to a U.S. report.

As many as 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 has a mental illness, with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, as the most prevalent diagnosis, according to the report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate of children hospitalized for mood disorders rose 80 percent from 1997 to 2010, the report said, citing a U.S. study from that year.

The CDC report released yesterday draws on a number of surveys. The Atlanta-based agency uses the report to mark the prevalence of the disorders and promote health initiatives to treat and prevent them. Researchers found that suicide, often stemming from mental illness, was the second-leading cause of death in 2010 among adolescents ages 12 to 17.

“Millions of children in the U.S. have mental disorders that affect their overall health and present challenges for their loved ones,” Thomas Frieden, the director of the CDC, said in a statement. “We are working to both increase our understanding of these disorders, and help scale up programs and strategies to promote children’s mental health so that our children grow to lead productive, healthy lives.”

ADHD Increase

About 7 percent of children had ADHD, a syndrome in which people have trouble paying attention, act impulsively or are overly active. The prevalence of ADHD increased 3 percent each year from 1997 to 2006 in one survey; in another, there was a 21.8 percent total increase in 2007 from 2003. Autism increased as much as fourfold in 2007 compared with a decade earlier.

ADHD was twice as prevalent as conduct disorders, the next-most common mental ailment. Other widespread conditions included anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorders and Tourette syndrome.

The report was released as a supplement to the CDC’s weekly publication, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly report, and used combined data sources to survey the years 2005 through 2011. An estimated 13 percent to 20 percent of children in the U.S. experience mental illness annually, the authors found.

About 3.5 percent of children had behavioral conduct problems, marked by inappropriate, negative and aggressive behavior that occurs for more than 6 months at a time. Children with this disorder, “consistently ignore the basic rights of others and violate social norms and rules,” by harming people or animals, destroying property, lying and stealing, the report said.

Boys’ Conduct

Behavioral conduct problems were twice as common among boys as girls. The prevalence was similar regardless of whether the children were covered by insurance. However, it was more likely among poor and less-educated families, and more common in blacks than in any other group. That data came from a 2007 survey of parents by the National Survey of Children’s Health.

The third and fourth most prevalent mental disorders were anxiety and depression, affecting 3 percent and 2.1 percent of those in the report, respectively. These ailments often occur with other health conditions, and are associated with substance abuse, poor social skills, and can lead to difficulty in education, work, and family life.

A greater proportion of girls ages 14 and 16 were likely to be depressed than boys of the same age. White people were most likely to have experienced a period of depression in their lifetime or this year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Lopatto in San Francisco at elopatto@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net

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