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updated 11/22/2010 11:12:48 AM ET 2010-11-22T16:12:48

About one in five teens in the United States suffers from a mental disorder severe enough to their impact daily activities, either currently or at some point in their lives, according to a startling new study. The research also concludes that a higher percentage have or have had some sort of mental disorder, though less serious in nature.

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"The prevalence of severe emotional and behavior disorders is even higher than the most frequent major physical conditions in adolescence, including asthma or diabetes, which have received widespread public health attention," the researchers write in the October issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

The study is the first to report the prevalence of a broad range of mental disorders in a nationally representative sample of U.S. adolescents, the researchers said.

Kathleen Ries Merikangas of the National Institute of Mental Health and colleagues examined the lifetime prevalence and severity of many mental health disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the reference book professionals use when making diagnoses. The study involved surveys from 10,123 adolescents, ages 13 to 18, in the continental U.S. Mental disorders were assessed during interviews.

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Anxiety disorders, such as panic disorders and social phobia, were the most common conditions (31.9 percent of teens had such a disorder), followed by behavior disorders, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or ADHD (19.1 percent), mood disorders, such as major depressive disorder, (14.3 percent) and substance use disorders (11.4 percent).

Approximately 40 percent of participants with one class of disorder also meet criteria for another class of disorder at some point in their lives, the researchers said.

The overall prevalence of disorders with severe impairment and/or distress, marked by interference with daily life, was 22.2 percent, just higher than one in five teens.

More research is needed to determine the risk factors for mental disorders in adolescence, and to see whether these disorders will continue on to adulthood, the researchers say.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.


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