Kids' Stress Cited as Disorders Increase Mental Health Problems Rising

By Templeton, David | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), August 19, 2014 | Go to article overview

Kids' Stress Cited as Disorders Increase Mental Health Problems Rising


Templeton, David, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


American children are experiencing a higher rate of neurological- development and mental health disorders and behavioral problems than they did a decade ago, with a surprisingly high increase among children from more affluent households.

But the good news is that children now face fewer physical disabilities than a decade ago, according to a health-data analysis conducted by Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC researchers and published in the September issue of Pediatrics.

The unexpected spike in neurological and mental disorders, especially among advantaged children, could reflect greater awareness of such conditions, better diagnostic procedures and more available mental health services for children, the study suggests.

But it also could reveal that children nowadays face lives filled with daily stressors, environmental exposures and health challenges, among other dietary and risk factors that are harming mental development and behavior.

Stressful exposures, obesity among pregnant women and the daily onslaught of scary news, among other factors, could help explain the ever higher rates of autism spectrum disorders, childhood anxiety, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression.

"Our study can't tell how or why this has occurred, but we have educated guesses," said Amy Houtrow, chief of Children's division of pediatric rehabilitation medicine and the study leader.

Those guesses, she said, include shifts in the way disorders are diagnosed, the well-documented increases in autism cases, heightened public awareness of such disorders, and the need for specific diagnoses before children can qualify for early intervention or other mental health services.

"I think what the study does is set the stage to dig deeper - to look for the reasons for the trends," Dr. Houtrow said.

"In this study, we found that physical disabilities are decreasing. This is a very positive finding. But the increase in disability due to neurodevelopmental and mental health problems is concerning.

"If parents are worried about how their child is functioning, they should bring it to the attention of their health-care provider," she said.

Kenneth W. Norwood Jr., chairman on the American Academy of Pediatrics' Council of Children with Disabilities, said the study helps confirm the steady increase in neurological- development and mental health disorders and behavioral problems he and other doctors have witnessed in patients over the years. …

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