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Mental Health Disorders Go Untreated in US Teens

Nov 18, 2013 03:32 PM EST

A new study by Duke University researchers reports that more than half of adolescents with psychiatric disorders receive no treatment of any kind.

The study, which was based on a survey of more than 10,000 American teenagers, also indicates that among those who do receive treatment for their disorders, the treatment is rarely provided by a mental health specialist.

"It's still the case in this country that people don't take psychiatric conditions as seriously as they should. This [is] despite the fact that these conditions are linked to a whole host of other problems," said E. Jane Costello, a Duke University professor of psychology and epidemiology and associate director of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy. Costello's research is published in the latest edition of the journal Psychiatric Services.

Costello cited the recent school shooting massacres in America, noting that mental illnesses all seemed to play a role in the actions of the shooters. She iterated that the research further highlights a need for better mental health services for adolescents.

Interestingly, Costello found that not all mental disorders carry the same weight when being evaluated for treatment. Depending on the mental illness, whether a teen received treatment could vary widely.

More than 70 percent of adolescents diagnosed with ADHD, conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder received mental health care more than 70 percent of the time, Costello found. But teens who suffer from phobias or anxiety disorders were very unlikely to receive treatment for their woes.

Costello also said the quality of the psychiatric care the teens received varied greatly. In many cases those providing treatment were school counselors, pediatricians or probation officers rather than people with specialized mental health training. Costello attributed the lapse in quality of care to a lack of qualified child mental health specialists.

"We need to train more child psychiatrists in this country," Costello said. "And those individuals need to be used strategically, as consultants to the school counselors and others who do the lion's share of the work."

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