Young mother holding her little sad daughter in her arms

Children’s Mental Health: Understanding an Ongoing Public Health Concern

The CDC shared that a new report on children’s mental health used data from different sources to describe mental health and mental disorders in children during 2013–2019. Poor mental health among children continues to be a substantial public health concern. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety among children of all ages, and symptoms related to depression among adolescents, are the most common concerns.  More information on positive indicators of mental health such as emotional well-being and resilience is needed to truly understand children’s mental health.

Summary

Mental health encompasses a range of mental, emotional, social, and behavioral functioning and occurs along a continuum from good to poor. Previous research has documented that mental health among children and adolescents is associated with immediate and long-term physical health and chronic disease, health risk behaviors, social relationships, education, and employment. Public health surveillance of children’s mental health can be used to monitor trends in prevalence across populations, increase knowledge about demographic and geographic differences, and support decision-making about prevention and intervention. Numerous federal data systems collect data on various indicators of children’s mental health, particularly mental disorders. The 2013–2019 data from these data systems show that mental disorders begin in early childhood and affect children with a range of sociodemographic characteristics. During this period, the most prevalent disorders diagnosed among U.S. children and adolescents aged 3–17 years were attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and anxiety, each affecting approximately one in 11 (9.4%–9.8%) children. Among children and adolescents aged 12–17 years, one fifth (20.9%) had ever experienced a major depressive episode. Among high school students in 2019, 36.7% reported persistently feeling sad or hopeless in the past year, and 18.8% had seriously considered attempting suicide. Approximately seven in 100,000 persons aged 10–19 years died by suicide in 2018 and 2019. Among children and adolescents aged 3–17 years, 9.6%–10.1% had received mental health services, and 7.8% of all children and adolescents aged 3–17 years had taken medication for mental health problems during the past year, based on parent report. Approximately one in four children and adolescents aged 12–17 years reported having received mental health services during the past year. In federal data systems, data on positive indicators of mental health (e.g., resilience) are limited. Although no comprehensive surveillance system for children’s mental health exists and no single indicator can be used to define the mental health of children or to identify the overall number of children with mental disorders, these data confirm that mental disorders among children continue to be a substantial public health concern. These findings can be used by public health professionals, health care providers, state health officials, policymakers, and educators to understand the prevalence of specific mental disorders and other indicators of mental health and the challenges related to mental health surveillance.

 

To read the full report, click here.

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