Published Online: June 21, 2005
Published in Print: June 22, 2005, as Mental-Health Disorders Gain Foothold During Teenage Years

Health Update

Mental-Health Disorders Gain Foothold During Teenage Years

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Nearly half of Americans will have a mental-health disorder in their lifetimes, and for many people, such problems begin to manifest themselves before or during high school, according to research published this month in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Four studies, conducted by the University of Michigan, collected data between February 2001 and April 2003 from 9,282 adults nationwide. Researchers found that anxiety disorders and major depression are among the most common mental illnesses.

“Half of all lifetime cases start by age 14 years,” one of the studies says. “Whatever else we can say about mental disorders, then, they are distinct from chronic physical disorders because they have their strongest foothold in youth, with substantially lower risk among people who have matured out of the high-risk age range.”

Despite such early origins, a majority of individuals who experience a mental disorder do not receive adequate treatment, the data show.

Of those surveyed, 41 percent reported receiving some treatment, and about 13 percent said they had sought help from a psychiatrist.

Another concern, the researchers report, is the fact that only one-third of the available treatments met minimum published guidelines established by the American Psychiatric Association.

“From a public-health point of view, it’s distressing that so few people are getting treatment,” said Ronald C. Kessler, a professor of health and policy at the Harvard Medical School and the lead author. “It’s not a trivial issue. This is a serious problem.”

According to Mr. Kessler, nearly a third of those surveyed didn’t receive treatment because they didn’t believe they had a problem. The remaining two-thirds either didn’t believe treatment would help or offered reasons for avoiding treatment, such as cost concerns or personal embarrassment.

Vol. 24, Issue 41, Page 12

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