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Children's Health

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Teens' Mental Disorders Often Untreated: Study

Shortage of child psychiatrists partly to blame

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Nov. 21, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Less than half of American teens with mental health disorders receive treatment, and those who do get help rarely see a mental health specialist, a new study indicates.

The findings underscore the need for better mental health services for teens, said study author E. Jane Costello, associate director of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy in Durham, N.C.

"It's still the case in this country that people don't take psychiatric conditions as seriously as they should," Costello said in a Duke news release. This remains so, despite a wave of mass shootings in which mental illness may have played a role, she and her colleagues noted.

The analysis of data from more than 10,000 teens aged 13 to 17 across the United States also showed that treatment rates varied greatly for different types of mental health problems.

For example, teens with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder received mental health care more than 70 percent of the time, while those with phobias or anxiety disorders were least likely to be treated.

The researchers also found that blacks were much less likely than whites to be treated for mental disorders, according to the study, published online Nov. 15 in the journal Psychiatric Services.

In many cases, teens received treatment from pediatricians, school counselors or probation officers, rather than mental health specialists. This is because there are not enough qualified child mental health professionals to handle the demand, said Costello, who is also a professor of psychology and epidemiology at Duke University.

"We need to train more child psychiatrists in this country," Costello said in a university news release. "And those individuals need to be used strategically, as consultants to the school counselors and others who do the lion's share of the work."

As many as one in five children living in the United States experiences a mental health disorder in any one year, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

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