Surprising Mental Health Trends In American Children

Published on: 21 May 2015
Surprising Mental Health Trends In American Children

“I’m by no means condemning prescription medicine for mental health. I’ve seen it save a lot of people’s lives.” – Zach Braff

Interesting news: according to a new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, there has been a decline in severe mental health problems among America’s youth. This optimistic finding is especially significant because it acknowledges the importance and success of medicinal as well as therapy-based treatment options among children and adolescents struggling with mental illness. 

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Independent of the favored, though grim prognoses pertaining to the state of mental health care depicted in popular culture, the ongoing struggle to de-stigmatize it has been paying off. The study indicates that the “percentage of youths receiving any outpatient mental health service increased from 9.2% between 1996-1998, to 13.3% between 2010-2012.” And although many of the mentioned youths receiving treatment had no severe conditions to begin with, the rise of mental health providers and improved access to psychotherapy played a major preventative role in these finds.

That being said, yes, there are more children and adolescents taking psychotropic-medication today than ever before. But this is not necessarily a bad thing, since science has long confirmed that the best results are usually attained by a combination of carefully selected medicines and high quality cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s true, however, that many parents hold less-than positive sentiments about psychoactive medications. Therefore, it’s perfectly understandable why psychotherapy is the preferred treatment option when it comes to figuring out the best way of helping their children attain mental health.

It’s no secret that psychotropic medications have at times been over prescribed. Dr. Marilyn Wedge argues that because “there is no consensus in the medical community about what behaviors constitute a particular ‘disorder’” a misdiagnosis can unfortunately lead to over medication. Furthermore, she rightfully points out the fact that developmental delays can, and often are misinterpreted as mental disorders, when in fact they’re not.

This is a serious point of concern for organizations like Citizens Commission on Human Rights International, and many others that passionately discourage parents from allowing medicinal intervention. They believe that psychiatrists are too liberal with prescribing medications that directly impact brain chemistry, especially when it comes to children. These are valid points worthy of consideration, and so, we need to increase funding for scientific research to come up with safer alternatives. Instead, research is being hindered while funding is being cut, which fails to advance mental health care as a discipline overall.

Still, there are many children and adolescents in need of mental health care that will get no professional help at all. In part, this has to do with their parents’ lack of trust in medicinal and/or therapy-based treatment options, as well as their hesitation to admit that their kids may have mental health problems in general. We still have a long way to go in regards to educating the public about the benefits psychoactive medication and/or psychotherapy. But the fact remains – different types of severe mental problems have been declining among America’s youth, and steadily increasing the number of happy and well adjusted adults in the future.

It is our social responsibility to give our children access to the best mental health care possible.

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Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

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