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Mental Health Disorders Are Common

The prevalence of mental health disorders among young people in this country approximates that of adults, and their impact may be even greater in youth because they strike during critical periods of educational, emotional and social development.

17.1 million young people have or have had a diagnosable psychiatric disorder.⁵ Put another way, one out of every five children in the US meets criteria for a major mental disorder.

20% of US children have a mental health disorder

Fifty percent of mental health disorders begin before age 14 and 75% before age 24, affecting the learning and school experience for all children.

50% of disorders begin before age

75% of disorders begin before age 24

These are disorders of childhood and adolescence that, if untreated, will have a marked effect on students’ ability to learn and function in the school environment. For instance:

  • 75% of social phobia manifests by age 15
  • 75% of separation anxiety disorder manifests by age 10
  • 75% of oppositional defiant disorder manifests by age 14
  • 75% of ADHD manifests by age 8⁶

Anxiety disorders like social phobia can make students twice as likely to drop out or fail a grade;⁷ ADHD, mood and anxiety symptoms and disruptive behavior at age 6 predict math and reading achievement at age 17;⁸ and combinations of mental health disorders (including substance abuse) are predictors for low levels of lifetime educational attainment.⁹

N.B. Because this report does not generally cover clinical approaches to mental health care, interventions and outcomes are described using the common school-based language of symptoms and behaviors, not diagnoses

⁵ Child Mind Institute. 2015 Children’s Mental Health Report.

⁶ Kessler, R.C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K.R., Walters, E.E. Lifetime Prevalence and Age-of-Onset Distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005;62(6):593-602. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.62.6.593.

⁷ Stein, M.B.; Kean, Y.M. (2000). Disability and quality of life in social phobia: epidemiologic findings. American Journal of Psychiatry. 157(10): 1606-1613. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.157.10.1606

⁸ Breslau, J., Miller, E., Breslau, N., Bohnert, K., Lucia, V., & Schweitzer, J. (2009). The Impact of Early Behavior Disturbances on Academic Achievement in High School. Pediatrics. 123(6), 1472–1476. http://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2008-1406

⁹ McLeod, J. D., Uemura, R., & Rohrman, S. (2012). Adolescent Mental Health, Behavior Problems, and Academic Achievement. Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 53(4), 482–497. http://doi.org/10.1177/0022146512462888