CDC: 1 in 5 kids has a mental disorder

Nearly 1 in 5 children in the U.S. suffers from a mental disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression and autism.

Kids who once would have been called antsy, shy, moody or odd are now being diagnosed with mental disorders and disabilities. How many really need mental health care? The bill is up to $247 billion a year, the CDC estimates.

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  1. I suppose the question is whether the treatments are successful in changing anything.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      Some day someone will do a study on kids with autism who both receive and don’t receive interventions and then will know how effective they are. My purely personal experience as a parent of a child with an Asperger’s diagnosis is that much of it is bunk. My son is now 14 and it’s impossible to talk to parents with younger kids because most of them are so invested in different therapies that it is an act of heresy to suggest that these interventions are placebos – which in my observation (limited to myself and many other families with now teenaged aspies/auties) they are.

      • Stacy: As a parent of a young autie, I’m still hopeful; but the more I see her grow, the more I think, man, she’s much like I remember being. My wife thinks the same with respect to herself. It might indeed be bunk, but if no harm is done, maybe it’s worth it? Heck, we’ve got a little OT gym in the basement, she loves working out a couple times a day.

        Some of this has to be what my Ed school professors called “constructed disability”. It’s caused by the situation. As we push more and more academics at kids at younger ages, there’s going to be more maladjustment. I don’t think many kids, moreso boys, are ready for what we’re asking of them.

        My daughter would be fine if you didn’t ask her to sit and listen in circle time and she could pelt around taking stuff apart and jumping in puddles.

        • therese says:

          Totally agree that the push down of academics is a big part of the problem. Our kindergarten teacher had to get rid of show and tell in order to have time to focus on academics.

        • Crimson Wife says:

          The increase in the autism epidemic is very real. Back when my 10 y.o. was a preschooler, I knew exactly one family with an autistic child. Today, I have an autistic child myself and know a bunch of others- and that’s after excluding the ones I met through my DD’s Early Intervention & special ed preschools, support groups, etc.

          • Crimson Wife says:

            And I’m talking moderate-to-severe autism here, not mildly affected kids today labeled as Asperger’s/PDD who would’ve previously just been considered a bit “odd”.

          • Mark Roulo says:

            You must be cautious about such lines of reasoning. I noticed many more Saabs on the roads after I purchased one, but I do not think that there was an upsurge is Saab sales. I was just more attuned to notice the ones that were already there …

          • Crimson Wife says:

            Given that the diagnosis rate went from 1 in 155 in 2002 to 1 in 88 in 2008, I really don’t think it’s a case of me simply noticing families with autistic kids more.

          • Crimson Wife is right, and it is scary. What is society going to do with such a huge percentage of unemployable workers, who will need government assistance for life? What is causing this epidemic? Something in the air (air pollution? chemicals in the air?), something in the water, hormones and GMOs in our food, etc.?

      • Classics Mom says:

        I am a little confused. Is your son now better as a teenager? Or does he still have AS symptoms despite therapies? I ask because my child was diagnosed as Asperger’s when he was young despite borderline symptoms. We did work intensively on social skills ourselves which seems to have helped, but I also think time has helped. I do think many kids are too quickly labelled with diagnoses.

        • Stacy in NJ says:

          It depends on your definition of “better”. He is as he has always been – a kids with some oddities but still a pretty spectacular human. He received private speech and physical therapy as a toddler which were largely pointless and unnecessary but were recommended so we did them for a time.

          The labels exist for two reasons: to help parents deal psychologically with the reality of they’re non-typical children, and to keep legions of professionals employed. Some services are somewhat helpful, but I significantly doubt they are worthy of the financial and emotional resources invested in them.

          Some people find great comfort in identifying as a type. “I am this. My child is this. This explains things.” Whether these labels are accurate or not ends up being a secondary consideration. It is a narrative we tell ourselves and others so that the world makes sense.

    • therese says:

      Many of the treatments are successful. Both of my sons, with ADHD and anxiety, were miserable that they couldn’t keep up in class as early as age 5. A lot medication, therapy, school accommodations later, my oldest has come through the rough middle school and high school years and is doing well at college. I can tell you that without the support, he would not be a happy 19 year old excited about school. He’d probably be a self-medicated alcoholic like my older brother. The younger one is in the middle of navigating high school, but is also managing. The modern interventions do work – it just takes a lot of effort to figure out which ones work for your kid.

  2. I’m just wondering whether the study would have come up with different results if the employees of the CDC were the target population?

  3. “1 in 5” really? I don’t doubt that there are children who do have a true mental disorder and the interventions are a God-send. Those are not the kids I’m talking about. I’m talking about the large number of kids where popping a pill is the solution. Is this number of 1 in 5 because it is more of an organic problem or is it because it’s perhaps more of an environmental problem than we either realize or are willing to admit?

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    Not to be skeptical or anything, but almost all of these conditions exist on a continuum and if you stretch the interest further along the continuum away from “severe”, you’ll get more. Some, nobody would have noticed.
    Billable hours, is my guess. More billable hours.

    • Not skeptical at all. The diagnosis process is on a point system, there are “cut” scores. I imagine the system is gamed, people will try to game nearly any system. The new DSM will probably exacerbate that as many diagnosis get pushed aside and kids get pegged as ASD – Mild, Moderate or Severe.

      We’re not to the point yet where this stuff is as clean cut as a broken bone. If only we were, we’d probably have to accumulated knowledge to know what works for whom. As is, we’re little better than phrenologists or shamen. Wait, that’s giving shamen a bad name …

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        My psych BA is approaching half a century behind me. But I do recall learning what they didn’t think they were teaching us; they don’t know as much as they want you to think they do. To be more charitable, there are lots of different, and frequently conflicting, theories. In the aggregate…they don’t know as much as they want you to think they do.
        Mark Roulo in another thread mentioned the Rosenhan experiment. Look it up.

        • Richard: Thanks for a chilling Sunday morning read. Nice to have a name to put to the suspicions. I’ve always taken the doctors with a grain of salt; now maybe I’ll carry around a 5 pound bag!

          Browse up on Ignaz Semmelweis when you have a moment.

  5. I doubt that the geographic distribution of ASD kids is equal across all states and communities. Years ago, I remember reading that the incidence in Silicon Valley was much higher than elsewhere.

    As far as ADHD is concerned, I think that the incidence is vastly overblown by the refusal of teachers and admins, in concert with various medical professionals, to admit that boys are inherently different from girls and to accommodate those differences in curriculum choices and instructional practices. My DH’s nums and my old-maid Normal school grads understood and appreciated boys far better than the current ed school grads.

  6. palisadesk says:

    Autism should not be lumped into the same category as anxiety, depression and attention deficit disorder. While research is not conclusive, there is a definite genetic, possibly epi-genetic, element to autism (coupled doubtless with environmental triggers). Autism should be categorized with other neuro-developmental disorders.

    As far as incidence of ASD goes, there are some startling population differences. The rate in Somali emigre families in both Sweden and North America is very high (as high as 4%) while in others it is quite low. Teratogens and environmental toxins may play a role.

    Two articles that explore aspects or the ongoing studies:

    Depression and anxiety are very real problems for some children and need to be dealt with, but counseling and cognitive/behavior therapy are more effective than any drug treatments. Kindness and common sense go a long way towards improving matters.

  7. SuperSub says:

    Decreased parental interactions. How many of the cases of mental disorders could be prevented or minimized with proper parental bonding and interaction throughout a child’s life? Trauma and abuse can lead to mental disorder…almost all of our social skills are learned early in our lives. It’s pretty reasonable to assume that the abandonment to electronics and overcrowded daycare facilities that our children experience will lead to behavioral abnormalities later on.

  8. lightly seasoned says:

    I’m seeing more students with the traditional mental disorders: extreme anxiety, bipolar, personality disorders, etc. This was one of those years when I had a cluster of about 6 of them in one class. Never a dull moment. Lot of stuff I just couldn’t do — anything interactive was exhausting to manage. The autistic kids are a piece of cake at this point in my career; they’re quite predictable once you figure them out. ADHD kids you just channel. It’s the kids who flip out unpredictably that are tough.

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    The world has walls, sharp edges, correcting mechanisms, all of which we encounter, including the non-standard among us. Which, if things go along much further, would be all of us. Those whose non-standardness was more pronounced hit the walls and sharp edges and other corrective mechanisms harder, but with some effect.
    So “odd” kids can grow up to be reasonably self-supporting and non-disruptive.
    Howsomever, to make an analogy: When I was in HS, the 35 cent lunch was a peanut butter sandwich–jelly optional–a fruit, and a cookie. The forty cent lunch was a kind of institutional thing with meat and carbs, fruit and a small chunk of sheet cake.
    Today, we’d expect to be taking the afflicted off to ER in busloads. Peanuts?!?!?!?!?
    Then, no problem.
    From which I deduce that other things may have changed. While I strongly favor the expanded diagnosis theory for mental issues, it isn’t an expanded diagnosis giving people anaphylactic shock when somebody two classrooms over has a cookie made with peanut oil.
    Something else may have changed.

    • What are causing these epidemics? Something in the air (air pollution? chemicals in the air?), something in the water, hormones and GMOs in our food, etc.?

      • George Larson says:

        Maybe it is the decrease in infant mortality. Maybe these children would not have survived to attend school in earlier generations.

        • Richard Aubrey says:

          George. The most severe cases are frequently associated with physical challenges. The rest not so much and it’s the rest we’re talking about.