ADHD News & Research

17.1 Million U.S. Children Have a Diagnosable Mental Illness: The Vast Majority Are Not Getting Treatment

A new report released by the Child Mind institute indicates that childhood mental health is in more dire straits than previously thought.

May 4, 2015

The Child Mind Institute released today their first annual Children’s Mental Health Report, finding that 17.1 million children in the United States have a diagnosable mental illness — and the vast majority are not getting treatment.

The report, which synthesized recent census data with studies on childhood psychiatric need and care, shows that as many as 80 percent of children with diagnosable anxiety disorders are not getting any treatment at all. For children suffering from depression or other mood disorders, 60 percent are not getting treatment, while 40 percent of children with ADHD are not being treated.

“The results are in, and they are remarkable in that they defy the general public’s perception of childhood mental illness,” said Harold Koplewicz, M.D., president and founder of the Child Mind Institute. “Many more kids than we realized struggle with mental illness and nearly two thirds do not get treatment. This is a wake-up call. Mental illness and learning disabilities are the common disorders of childhood.”

Children who don’t receive treatment for psychiatric disorders are at greater risk for suicide, drug abuse, academic problems, and trouble with the law. In fact, up to 70.4 percent of juveniles in the American justice system meet the criteria for a psychiatric diagnosis. The cost of housing these juvenile delinquents, combined with lost productivity caused by untreated childhood mental health problems, is a staggering $202 billion.

“We know that [when a mental illness is] left untreated, kids start feeling bad,” says Koplewicz. “And when someone feels bad in a situation, they try to avoid it. Once you start avoiding school, you are more at risk for bad things happening to you.”

The median age of onset for anxiety disorders is six years old, while mood disorders like depression generally show up around age 13. The full report highlights the treatment options available for all ages, as well as the benefits of early intervention. According to Koplewicz, parents need to be important players in diagnosing and treating their child. “If a parent sees a change [in their child’s behavior or moods], they shouldn’t wait. It’s most likely more severe than they expect.”

The Child Mind institute will officially present the report today, May 4, 2015, at the Change Maker Awards in New York City. The report is meant to kick off Speak Up for Kids, a month-long event put on by the Child Mind Institute to promote children’s mental health. For more information, go to