The study, entitled Mental Health Surveillance Among Children — United States, 2005–2011, described the statistics revealed as "serious deviations from expected cognitive, social, and emotional development."
Some noteworthy and surprising statistics from the study:
- Between 13 and 20 percent of the children studied experience a mental disorder in an average year.
- Study surveillance of youth in the seven year period between 1994 and 2011 showed the prevalence of these conditions to be increasing.
- Mental disorders in the U.S. were among the most costly conditions to treat in children. Including health care, services (such as special education and juvenile justice), and decreased productivity, mental disorders among those under 24 years of age was estimated at $247 billion annually.
- Suicide – often an outcome of mental disorders and other factors –was the second leading cause of death among children between 12 and 17 years of age in 2010.
What types of mental health problems were being reported? Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (at 6.8 percent) was the most commonly reported diagnosis among children aged 3–17 years, followed by:
- Behavioral or conduct problems (3.5 percent)
- Anxiety (3.0 percent)
- Depression (2.1 percent)
- Autism spectrum disorders (1.1 percent)
- Tourette syndrome (0.2 percent among children 6–17 years of age)
Adolescents (12–17 years) in particular were involved in significant amounts of troubling activities:
- Nearly five percent admitted to illicit drug use disorder in the past year.
- About four percent had an alcohol abuse disorder in the past year.
- Nearly three percent reported cigarette dependence problems in the past month.
- Approximately eight percent reported 14 or more days per month of mentally unhealthy days.
- The overall suicide rate for persons aged 10–19 years was 4.5 suicides per 100,000 persons in 2010.
Summer activities to improve children’s mental health
Tip #1. Turn off the televisionTV viewing among kids is at an eight-year high. Too often, television becomes a substitute babysitter – and a poor substitute at that. Studies show that too much television is associated with many physical and mental problems, including weight gain, and even brain damage risk. One study involving nearly 1,500 children looked at potential connections between TV viewing habits, psychological distress, and levels of physical activity. Results: Children who watched high levels of TV and screen entertainment (greater than 2.7 hours daily) were 24 percent more likely to have high levels of psychological distress than children who watched less.
At the very least, TV is an activity that usually involves little or no interaction with others, and takes time that could otherwise be spent in social activities, reading a book, or family communication.
If you limit television viewing, no doubt you may hear your children say “I’m bored.” But more often than not, the activities they turn to when they are bored from lack of access to the TV will be activities that are more conducive to mental health and feelings of well-being.
Tip #2. Be presentIt’s best not to assume that kids will be just fine on their own. Children cope with difficult situations better in the presence of adults who have more experience and skills at dealing with difficult times or situations. An activity or confrontation that may cause a child to become frustrated, hurt, or depressed will seem much less overwhelming when they see the more mature response of an influential adult. As well, children can be cruel to one another, but tend to be less so when adults are present to intervene or “play referee” in a potentially hurtful or bullying situation.
Tip #3. Plan whole-family activitiesCreating positive, heartwarming family memories can go far to helping a child feel loved and worthwhile as a human being. Family experiences give them an anchor: a sense of identity and belonging. During the summer while school is out, capture some of those idle moments and turn them into a fun family adventure. It needn’t be expensive – go fly a kite, have a picnic, visit a museum, or play some Frisbee or croquet in the backyard.
Tip #4. Create focused one-on-one timeBeyond family time activities, it’s important to have one-on-one time with your child – a time to talk and listen. Consider setting aside a little time to do this every week. Making a regular helps your child come to expect and respect these times. During these moments, let them know that this is the right time to talk openly about their feelings and emotions. With such a habit and trust established, your child will feel much more comfortable talking with you when there is a problem.
If you don’t feel confident knowing how to start up these one-on-one times, try one of these two parent-child communication activities to help each of you get more comfortable.
Tip #5. Promote physical activities/outletsExercise and physical activity is beneficial not only to physical health but toward mental health as well. Studies indicate that exercise and physical activity are associated with better quality of life and health outcomes.
Make a difference this summer