Severe Mental Illness on the Decline in Youngsters--An 'Unexpected' Finding


Rates of severe mental illness in children and adolescents have dropped 16% since 1996, according to a new study. The lead author explains possible reasons for this surprising finding and concludes: "We're moving in the right direction!"

For some time now, the prevailing wisdom-based largely on CDC reports-has been that rates of mental illness are steadily climbing in children and adolescents. But a study just published in TheNew England Journal of Medicine has turned that conventional wisdom on its head.* The new study, headed by psychiatrist Mark Olfson of Columbia University shows that rates of severe mental illness in youths have dropped substantially since 1996.

A brief interview with Dr Olfson, who is Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, can be heard in this podcast. Among the questions he addresses:


Q. The CDC’s website shows marked increases in conditions like autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit disorder. Your study found increasing rates of treatment, and overall falling rates of serious impairment. Did your results surprise you?

Q. Your study showed a striking increase in the use antidepressants across levels of impairment severity between 1996-1998, 2003-2005, and 2010-2012. How do you interpret these findings?

Q. How might your study findings change psychiatric clinical practice?


*Olfson M, Druss BG, Marcus SC. Trends in mental health care among children and adolescents.N Engl J Med. 2015;372;21:2029-2038.


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