Contrary to public perception and horrific cases that make headlines, serious mental problems are declining among the nation's youth, and there has been a big rise in how many are getting help, a new study finds.
The study is mostly good news: More children and teens are taking mental health medicines than ever before, but more also are getting therapy, not just pills. The biggest rise in treatment rates has been among the most troubled kids.
"There's a concern out there that a lot of children and adolescents are receiving mental health treatments, particularly medications, that they don't need," especially for conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, said the study's leader, Dr. Mark Olfson, a psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Center and the New York State Psychiatric Institute.
Instead, the results suggest "that at least in some ways, we're moving in the right direction," by getting help to kids who need it most, he said.
The dark cloud: More than half of severely troubled kids get no help at all.
The study used nationwide surveys done by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality over three periods from 1996 to 2012, covering more than 53,000 youths ages 6 to 17. Results are in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.
Here are some highlights that compare the first survey to the most recent one: