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Report shows many children have emotional troubles

September 3, 2008 |  2:54 pm

Mental1 Two reports released today from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal the range of emotional, behavioral and mental health problems facing Americans of all ages.

In the first report, a nationally representative survey found that among children ages 4 to 17, 15% of their parents had discussed their children's emotional or behavioral difficulties with a healthcare provider or school staff. The study found that about 5% of children surveyed were prescribed medication for mental health or behavioral problem. The majority (89%) of those prescriptions were to treat attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.

The report, which can be accessed on the CDC website, follows passage of model legislation in Massachusetts last month that may begin popping up in other states. In Massachusetts, a children's mental health law now requires that pediatricians screen children for mental health disorders with parental permission. It creates a system to help school personnel better recognize children with mental health needs, and it helps get children into appropriate community-based mental healthcare programs.

The second report from the CDC suggests that many teens and adults suffer from mental health problems without seeking treatment. That survey found that in any two-week period, 5.4% of Americans ages 12 and older experienced depression. Depression rates were higher in females, in people ages 40 to 59, in non-Hispanic black people and in poorer people. And these people aren't reporting simple bad moods. About 80% said they had some level of functional impairment because of their depression, and 27% reported serious difficulties at work and home.

Nevertheless, the survey found that only 29% of people who reported being depressed had contacted a mental health professional in the last year. Even among those described as being severely ill, only 39% reported contact.

These numbers can go down, experts say. The second report concludes: "Depression is a treatable condition. Successful depression treatment enables people to return to the level of functioning they had before becoming depressed."

Many good resources are available on mental illnesses and treatment. A good place to start is the National Institute of Mental Health.

-- Shari Roan

Graphic: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention