Monday, July 04, 2005

Half of mental health problems start in early teens

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is taking an aggressive approach to asking the right questions about mental health in the US and then trying to find solutions.

The NIMH reports results from a new study that says half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and that despite effective treatments, there are long delays - sometimes decades - between first onset of symptoms and when people seek and receive treatment, according to a report in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

“These studies confirm a growing understanding about the nature of mental illness across the lifespan,” says Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the NIMH. “There are many important messages from this study, but perhaps none as important as the recognition that mental disorders are the chronic disorders of young people in the US."

Unlike most disabling physical diseases, mental illness begins very early in life. Half of all lifetime cases begin by age 14; three quarters have begun by age 24. Thus, mental disorders are really the chronic diseases of the young, the NIMH states. For example, anxiety disorders often begin in late childhood, mood disorders in late adolescence, and substance abuse in the early 20’s.

Treating cases early could prevent enormous disability, before the illness becomes more severe, and before co-occurring mental illnesses develop, which only become more difficult to treat as they accumulate, according to the study researchers.

Learn more about this study and the results at the NIMH.

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