Quick Take: Prevalence and Treatment of Depression, Anxiety, and Conduct Problems in US Children

Mental health conditions in childhood have the potential to negatively impact healthy development, interfering with a child’s ability to achieve social, emotional, and cognitive milestones. This has important implications for social determinants of health. As such, there is a continuous need to assess the prevalence and correlates of childhood mental health disorders. In this retrospective cohort study, investigators analyzed data from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health on 43,283 US children in order to estimate the latest trends in mental health conditions. Investigators estimated that in 2016, 3.2% of U.S. children and adolescents (~1.9 million) were affected by depression, 7.1% (~4.4 million) had a current anxiety problem, and 7.4% (~4.5 million) had a current behavioral or conduct problem. In terms of sociodemographic and health-related factors, prevalence varied by sex only for behavioral/conduct problems, with the prevalence in boys more than double that observed in girls. The prevalence of depression and behavioral/conduct problems was estimated to be higher among children living in households <100% of the federal poverty level (FPL) than in children living in households >200% FPL. Children with a primary caregiver in either fair or poor mental/emotional health had higher rates of all mental health disorders than children living with primary caregivers who had good or excellent mental/emotional health. In terms of treatment, 78.1% of children with depression were estimated to have received treatment, whereas estimations for treatment of anxiety and behavioral/conduct problems were 59.3% and 53.5%, respectively. Taken together, the results from this study indicate that mental health disorders are common in children and that treatment gaps exist. This study also provides important information on what sociodemographic and health-related factors are associated with these common mental health conditions seen in children. This study is limited in that data on diagnoses and treatments were based on parent/caregiver reports, and the weighted response rate for the survey was 40.7%.

Click to read the study in the Journal of Pediatrics

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