15% of US children received mental health treatment in 2021, study reveals

Study shows the prevalence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or anxiety among school-age children

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Eager to get their children back in classrooms, the Morgan family moved from California to Texas so the boys could resume their regular routines. -Reuters
Eager to get their children back in classrooms, the Morgan family moved from California to Texas so the boys could resume their regular routines. -Reuters  

Recent research conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revealed that approximately 15% of children in the United States received treatment for mental health disorders in 2021.

The findings, released by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, highlight the prevalence of mental health conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or anxiety among school-age children.

Statisticians analyzed data from the 2021 National Health Interview Survey to determine the percentage of children who had received mental health treatment in the past year. The report indicates that the majority of treatments occurred among adolescents aged 12 to 17. Additionally, boys were more likely than girls to have been prescribed medications for their mental health.

The data reveals that during 2021, 14.9% of children between the ages of 5 and 17 had received treatment for their mental health. This includes 8.2% of children who had taken medications and 11.5% who had received counselling or therapy from a mental health professional. Further analysis by age group demonstrates that 18.9% of children aged 12 to 17 were treated for mental health concerns, compared to 11.3% of children aged 5 to 11.

Regarding medication usage, the researchers found that an estimated 9% of boys, as opposed to 7.3% of girls, had taken medication for their mental health. However, no significant difference was found in the percentage of boys and girls who had received counselling or therapy, with 11% of boys and 12.1% of girls reported to have undergone such treatments.

Examining the data by race, the researchers discovered that 18.3% of White children had received mental health treatments, while the corresponding figures for Black, Hispanic, and Asian children were 12.5%, 10.3%, and 4.4%, respectively. The study's authors, Benjamin Zablotsky and Amanda Ng, emphasised that White children were the most likely to receive any mental health treatment, while Asian children were the least likely.

Moreover, the research examined the correlation between geographical location and treatment rates. The findings indicate that in 2021, a higher percentage of children residing in rural areas had received mental health treatments compared to those in large metropolitan or medium/small metropolitan areas.

Dr Rebecca Baum, a professor specialising in paediatrics and adolescent medicine at the University of North Carolina, noted that the prevalence of mental health conditions tends to increase as children grow older. However, there are concerns that many children with mental health disorders, including anxiety, are still not receiving the necessary treatment.

Dr Baum also highlighted various barriers to children and teenagers accessing mental health care, including the limited size of the pediatric mental health workforce and the presence of stigma surrounding mental health problems. Furthermore, cultural differences and disparities faced by children and youth of colour in accessing mental health services may contribute to the findings of the study.

Another recent study published in the journal Pediatrics revealed a significant increase in doctor's office visits for anxiety disorder diagnoses among US children from 2006 to 2018. Surprisingly, the proportion of visits involving therapy decreased, and overall medication usage did not show a significant change. These results suggest that while more children and teens are experiencing anxiety, fewer are receiving treatment.