Only Half of Teens with Mental Health Issues Get Treatment

Teen Counseling
Help ensure your teen gets the help they may need (photo credit:

A recent study published in the journal Psychiatric Services indicates that more than half of all teenagers dealing with mental health disorders go untreated. Additionally, even when these kinds of disorders receive some treatment, the person doing the treating may not be a mental health provider.

The study was conducted by researchers from the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy, Harvard Medical School, and the National Institute of Mental Health. Using the results from the National Co-morbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement, the team looked at data from more than 10,000 U.S. teenagers. Their findings underline the importance of getting teenagers the help and support they need to overcome the challenges that often accompany mental health issues.

The study showed that of those teens with had a psychiatric disorder, only 25-45% had received any kind of treatment for that disorder in the previous 12 months. The findings, however, are not consistent across the board. Teens with specific mental health problems including ADHD, Conduct Disorder, and Oppositional Defiance Disorder, were more likely to receive treatment with at least 70% of the participants with those conditions receiving treatment in the previous year.

On the flip side, teens with phobias and anxiety disorders were the least likely to have received treatment in the past 12 months with only about 40% for each condition.

Only 23% of the teens who are getting some help with their mental health issues are receiving that help from traditional mental health providers like therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Many teens are being treated by alternative providers like the guidance counselor at their school or their pediatrician. In some cases, the person providing the majority of the teen’s mental health treatment and support is their parole officer.

While there are many reasons that teens are not getting the help they need in terms of their mental health, one thing that parents can do to combat this problem is to know how to tell when their teen is struggling. In order for teens to get the mental health treatment, support, and services they need to overcome these problems or to learn to manage these disorders, they need their parents to be behind them, seeking out the services they need, and fighting for the care that will be most beneficial to them. Parents can’t do what needs to be done to get their teen the necessary treatment if they aren’t aware that there is a problem.

To help change this dynamic and get more teens the treatment they need to thrive, here are some of the signs parents can look for that may indicate their teen is dealing with a mental health disorder.

  • Mood Swings – While teenagers are generally moody, these kinds of mood swings would be uncharacteristic for your child.
  • Changes in Behavior – Major changes in short timeframes should also be suspect. These kinds of changes can include personality changes, sleeping or eating habit changes, or big changes in personal style or their circle of friends.
  • Dropping Grades
  • Lower energy
  • Frequent non-specific illness like stomachaches, headaches, etc.
  • Self-medicating with drugs or alcohol
  • Decreases in personal hygiene

If your teen is displaying these signs, find a qualified mental health provider for them. This person can assess their condition, identify and diagnose any problems, and provide a plan for treatment and management.


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