Mental Disorders in Children

According to a recent survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control, approximately 1 in 5 children suffer from some sort of mental disorder, including, but not limited to, anxiety, depression, and attention deficit disorder (ADD).  While discussions regarding mental disorders in adults have been a topic of conversation as of late, mental disabilities in children, differing by presentation, diagnosis, and treatment, often don’t get as much attention.  It is because of these variations in symptoms that may be normal at differing points in a child’s development stages, such as outbursts of aggression, difficulty in paying attention, or fearfulness that mental disorders in children tend to go unrecognized and undiagnosed.  Unfortunately, because disorders in children can be so hard to identify, many children who could benefit from treatment often do not receive it.

Not only do mental disorders in children affect the child themselves, but their family and community as well.  Among children ages 3-17, the cost of medical bills for such treatment is up to $247 billion per year, with the money going towards things like medical, special education, and juvenile justice expenses.  According to the study, the most prevalent disorder among our nation’s children is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), affecting approximately 6.8% of America’s youth population. Behavioral or conduct problems impacts about 3.5% of children, followed by anxiety (3%), depression (2.1%), autism spectrum disorders (1.1%), and tourette syndrome (.2%).  Furthermore, the study found that ADHD, behavioral or conduct problems, autism spectrum disorders, anxiety, tourette syndrome, and cigarette dependence are more prevalent in boys than girls, while depression and alcohol use disorder tend to be displayed more often in female children.

When I was in the 4th grade, I was diagnosed with ADD, a disorder similar to ADHD.  Children with ADD typically have problems with paying attention or concentrating, following directions, and thinking before they act (impulsivity).  They can also become easily bored or frustrated with what would otherwise be basic tasks.  Symptoms of ADD in children usually fall into three categories: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.  Prior to getting diagnosed with ADD and subsequently being prescribed mediation, I remember being easily distracted, inattentive, and very disorganized. Luckily I had a good head on my shoulders and was able to get my school work done, but not only did tasks take me longer to complete than my fellow students, but also, at times, I would make careless errors due to my inability to concentrate, which only escalated the level of frustration I was already experiencing. Furthermore, because the impulsivity aspect of ADD was a symptom that heavily affected me, I had difficulty waiting for my turn to speak, often blurting out answers or interrupting others, which in turn, caused teachers to believe I was being purposefully defiant.  My undiagnosed ADD not only affected myself, but it affected my parents as well.  My constant frustrations and impulsivities caused me to become moody and irritable with my parents usually being on the receiving end those undesirable emotions.

Being the youngest of numerous siblings and having had other relatives diagnosed with ADD, my parents were familiar with the warning signs and symptoms so they had me tested in 4th grade.  While I remember not wanting to go to the nurse’s office to take my medication because I didn’t want to feel different than the rest of the students, I remember hating the constant waves of frustration that resulted from my inability to focus way more.  Luckily, I was diagnosed at a relatively early age and was able to get the treatment I needed in order to succeed.  Unfortunately, many children, not only with ADD or ADHD but also with other mental difficulties as well, are not tested and therefore struggle to succeed, as they are undiagnosed and untreated.

While, according to the CDC study, the number of children being diagnosed with mental disorders is steadily increasing, suggesting that perhaps people are becoming more aware of the identifying symptoms, it is exceptionally important for both parents as well as health care professionals to strive for early diagnosis and subsequently determine the appropriate treatment in order to not only help the child, but also to better comprehend the influence of mental disorders, communicate the needs for treatment and intervention strategies, and advocate for the mental health of children as a whole.