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CDC: About 15% of US children recently received mental health treatment

(CNN) — Nearly 15% of children in the United States were recently treated for mental health disorders in 2021, according to new research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The finding, released Tuesday by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, suggests that mental health disorders – such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or anxiety – are common among school-age children.

For the research, statisticians analyzed data from the 2021 National Health Interview Survey to find the percentage of children who received mental health treatment in the past year. Most treatments were among adolescents between 12 and 17 years old, according to the report, and boys were more likely than girls to have taken prescription medications for their mental health.

The data showed that in 2021, 14.9% of children ages 5 to 17 had received treatment for their mental health, including 8.2% who had taken medications and 11.5% who received counseling or therapy from a mental health professional.

When the data were analyzed by age, the researchers found that 18.9% of children ages 12 to 17 were treated for mental health concerns, compared with 11.3% of children ages 5 to 11.

While an estimated 9% of boys vs. 7.3% of girls were reported to have taken medication for their mental health, the researchers found no significant difference in the percentage who had received counseling or therapy: 11% of boys and 12.1% of girls.

When the data was analyzed by race, the researchers found that 18.3% of White children received mental health treatments, compared with 12.5% of Black children, 10.3% of Hispanic children and 4.4% of Asian children.

“White children remained the most likely to have received any mental health treatment, while Asian children were the least likely,” researchers Benjamin Zablotsky and Amanda Ng wrote in their study.

When they analyzed data by region, the researchers found that in 2021, the percentage of children who had received any mental health treatment in the past 12 months was higher in places that were more rural.

The data showed that 19.1% of children in non-metropolitan areas had received mental health treatments, compared with 14% in large metropolitan areas and 14.9% in medium or small metropolitan areas.

“The percentage of children who had taken medication for their mental health continued to increase as urbanization decreased, while the percentage of children who had received counseling or therapy did not differ by urbanization level,” the researchers wrote.

Overall, the new report “matches what we see in practice — the prevalence of mental health conditions increases as children get older, so we would expect that older children and teens would be more likely to receive mental health treatment, medication or counseling,” Dr. Rebecca Baum, a professor of general pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in an email.

There is also concern that many children with mental health disorders, such as anxiety, still are not getting the treatment they need.

“There are many barriers to children and teens receiving the mental health care they need. A significant barrier is the size of our pediatric mental health workforce, not only for the mental health workforce broadly, but also for more specialized mental health services,” wrote Baum, who was not involved in the new research.

“Another barrier to children and youth receiving services is the stigma regarding mental health problems and also how different cultures and communities think about mental health,” she wrote. “For example, these results could prompt us to ask if perhaps Asian, Black, or Hispanic families may be less likely to seek mental health treatment than White families. However, we also need to recognize the disparities faced by children and youth of color when attempting to access mental health services and in receiving ongoing care, which may also help to explain these findings.”

A separate study, published last week in the journal Pediatrics, found that the percentage of doctor’s office visits for U.S. children involving an anxiety disorder diagnosis significantly increased from 2006 through 2018. Yet the proportion of visits with any therapy decreased, and there was no significant change in the overall use of medications, suggesting that while there were more children and teens experiencing anxiety, fewer received treatment.