Mental health declining in American teenagers

Adolescents in the United States are more likely to suffer from a mental health disorder than ever before, but getting these teens diagnosed and cared for is a challenge that is not being met, a new book warns.

These findings are detailed in Treating and Preventing Adolescent Mental Health Disorders: What We Know and What We Don't Know - A Research Agenda for Improving the Mental Health of Our Youth (Oxford University Press), in which 150 mental health specialists analyze recent research on teen mental health problems.

These experts found while one in five adolescents suffer from a mental health disorder, treating them is not a priority on the nation's public health agenda, and there is limited knowledge about how to best help them. The result: disorders are frequently undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, or teenagers receive treatment whose effectiveness has been mostly studied in adults.

"Teenagers are being neglected by our society, both medically and emotionally," said the book's lead author, Dwight L. Evans, MD, an expert on mood disorders and Psychiatry Department Chair at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "Without more research that targets this very malleable age group -- and without early detection and prevention services to get them the help they need -- this mental health crisis will only get worse."

Among the experts' recommendations:

  • School-based services for the assessment, treatment, and prevention of adolescent mental health problems must be improved.
  • Primary care physicians must improve their ability to recognize and diagnose mental health disorders, and refer teens to specialists for further help.
  • The health care system should allow treatment of different disorders by different practitioners.
  • Mental health treatments should receive full parity under insurance plans.
  • Public awareness of mental health disorders and their treatments must be increased to reduce stigma.
  • More research is crucial on the best treatment methods for teens.

These findings and recommendations also inform a new series of books written for parents. The first, If Your Adolescent Has Depression or Bipolar Disorder: An Essential Resource for Parents, is out in July.

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