In practical terms, mental health means successful mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt to change and to cope with adversity. But mental health and mental illness are not polar opposites; they are really two points on the same continuum.(1)
Unfortunately, almost half of all Americans meet the criteria for mental illness at some point in their lives, and these challenges usually start in childhood or adolescence.(2) In fact, about 1 in 5 boys and girls in the United States between the ages of 9 and 17 have a diagnosable mental health or substance use disorder that affects their ability to function at home, at school, or with friends.(3) Some of the most common mental health disorders among young people are described below.(4)
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Conduct Disorder
Young people with ADHD have a chronic level of inattention and/or impulsive hyperactivity that interferes with peer and family relationships and school or work performance.
- In 2006, an estimated 7% of youth in the United States had ADHD, and boys were about three times as likely as girls to have the diagnosis.(5) In addition, children with fair or poor health status were almost three times as likely as children with excellent or very good health to have ADHD.(6) In 2002, 4% of boys 18 and under used prescription medications for the treatment of ADHD compared with less than 2% of girls the same age.(7)
Children and adolescents with conduct disorder have great difficulty following rules and behaving in a socially acceptable way.
- As many as 12% of boys will develop conduct disorder in their lifetime, with a median age of onset of about 12 years old.(8) A diagnosis of conduct disorder is associated with an elevated risk for other mental disorders including mood, anxiety, and impulse control disorders.(9) A 2003 study found that children living in poverty were more likely to experience behavioral disorders including conduct disorder.(10)
- In one 2006 survey, about 8% of boys and girls ages 12 to 17 reported that they had experienced a major depressive episode in the past year.(11)
- Almost 35% of boys and girls who had been depressed in the past year reported illicit drug use; less than 20% of those who had not been depressed in the past year reported illicit drug use.(12)
- Although depression is more common in girls, in 2005, about 20% of high school boys reported feeling sad or hopeless every day for at least 2 weeks.(13) In addition, in 2005 12% of high school boys had seriously considered attempting suicide, 10% had made a suicide plan, 6% had attempted suicide, and about 2% made a suicide attempt that required medical attention.(14)
- The number of office visits by youth age 19 and under with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder has increased 40 times in the past 10 years.(15)
Anxiety disorders are one of the most common forms of mental health disorders among girls and boys.(16)
- Separation anxiety disorder is one of the most commonly occurring anxiety disorders among youth with about 4% of boys and girls experiencing the disorder.(17)
- An estimated 4% of boys and 6% of girls between the ages of 12 and 17 experience post-traumatic stress disorder in response to traumatic events such as assault or other violence.(18) Boys and girls who are exposed to traumatic events are about twice as likely to have a mental health disorder compared to those who are not exposed to traumatic events.(19)
Given the high numbers of boys with mental health disorders, seeking and receiving treatment is of vital importance.
- A 2003 study found that most boys and girls are referred to treatment and/or receive treatment through their schools.(20) In one 2006 survey, about 20% of boys reported that they had received mental health counseling or treatment in the past year.(21) Up to 80% of boys and girls with a diagnosable mental disorder do not receive treatment, and the majority of those who do get help leave treatment early.(22)
Gender and Ethnic Differences in Mental Health
- A 2003 study found that by age of 16, depression and anxiety disorders are more common in girls than in boys.(23)
- Latino adolescents reported higher levels of depression compared to youth from other ethnic backgrounds.(24), (25)
- In 2007, more American Indian/Alaska Native boys committed suicide than White or Black boys.(26)
- Adolescents from low-income families show higher risk for all forms of mental illness. For instance, disadvantaged boys are at elevated risk for depression and suicide in adolescence.(27), (28)
- The link between poverty and mental health disorders is stronger for White children than Black children.(29)
- Adolescent girls are more likely to report treatment for mental health disorders than adolescent boys.(30)