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Prevalence and Magnitude of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Problems

For many years, the nation has faced a crisis regarding specialized behavioral health services for children. The statement below is widely quoted and remains salient in 2015:

“There is a dearth of child psychiatrists…Furthermore, many barriers remain that prevent children, teenagers, and their parents from seeking help from the small number of specially trained professionals… This places a burden on pediatricians, family physicians, and other gatekeepers to identify children for referral and treatment decisions” (Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, 1999). About 20 percent of U.S. children and adolescents (15 million), ages 9-17, have diagnosable psychiatric disorders (MECA, 1996, the Surgeon General, 1999). The prevalence of certain severe disorders such as bipolar, attention deficit hyperactivity, autism spectrum disorders (one in 88 children, CDC, 2012) have markedly increased in recent years.

The Center for Mental Health Services (1998) estimated that 9-13 percent of U.S. children and adolescents, ages 9-17, meet the definition of “serious emotional disturbance” and 5-9 percent of U.S. children and adolescents, “extreme functional impairment.” NCS-A study reported a 22% rate of severe impairments in 13-18 year olds (Merikangas, et. al, 2010).

Only about 30 percent of severely emotionally disturbed children and adolescents receive some kind of mental health specialty services (NCS-A, 2010, CDCP, 2015), and only a small fraction of them receive evaluation and treatment by child and adolescent psychiatrists.

It has been estimated that nation currently needs roughly 30,000 child & adolescent psychiatrists yet it only has about 6,000. The demand for child and adolescent psychiatry is projected to increase by 100 percent between 1995 and 2020, and for general psychiatry, by 19 percent. At the same time, the discrepancy between demand and availability is expected to grow, exponentially (U.S. Bureau of Health Professions, DHHS, 2000).

According to the World Health Organization, Depression is the No. 1 cause of disability in the world. Preventing or reducing the prevalence of depression is a major public health priority.

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