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Home > Practice Areas > Child Mental Health > Facts and Figures


Child Mental Health: Facts and Figures


  • In the United States, 1 in 10 children and adolescents suffer from mental illness severe enough to cause some level of impairment.

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 75%-80% of children who need mental health services don't receive it.

  • In 1997, suicide was the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds. In 2000, 3,994 teens and young adults ages 15-24 committed suicide--one every 2 hours and 12 minutes, Among persons ages 15-19, firearm-related suicides accounted for 62% of the increase in the overall suicide rate from 1980 to 1997.

  • Approximately 588,000 children reside in some form of foster care. Placements have dramatically increased over the past 10 years.

  • Severe mental illness is highly correlated with alcohol and other drug dependence or abuse. In 2002, among adults with severe mental illness, 23.2% were dependent on or abused alcohol or other drugs. The rate among adults without severe mental illness was only 8.2%.

  • In 2001, approximately 6.1 million children lived with parents who abused alcohol or other drugs. Of these, 1.1 million were younger than 3.

  • In 2000, approximately one in four U.S. children--19 million, or 28.6% of children birth to age 17--was exposed to family alcoholism or alcohol abuse.

  • Seven out of 10 cases of child abuse or neglect are exacerbated by a parent's abuse of alcohol or other drugs. In most cases, the parent's substance abuse is a long-standing problem of at least five years' duration.

  • Approximately 67% of parents with children in the child welfare system require substance abuse treatment, but child welfare agencies are able to provide treatment for only 31%.

  • Seventy-five percent of mothers receiving comprehensive substance abuse treatment had physical custody of one or more children six months after discharge from treatment, compared with 54% who had custody of any children shortly before entering treatment.
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Effect on Children

  • The frequency and severity of emotional problems among children in foster care seem to be strongly related to their history of deprivation, neglect and abuse, and the lack of security and permanence in their lives.

  • More than 80% of children in foster care have developmental, emotional, or behavioral problems.

  • Studies have linked foster care to conduct disorder. One study found that 44% of young adults who had been in foster care reported being involved in delinquent activities that led to court charges.

  • Children whose parents abuse drugs and alcohol are almost three times more likely to be abused and four times more likely to be neglected than are children whose parents are not substance abusers.

  • Children whose families do not receive appropriate treatment for alcohol and other drug abuse are more likely to end up in foster care, remain in foster care longer, and more likely to reenter foster care once they have returned home, than are children whose families do receive treatment.

  • Mental health disorders in children and adolescents are caused by biological factors such as genetics, chemical imbalances, or damage to the central nervous system; environmental factors such as exposure to violence, extreme stress, or loss of an important person; or a combination of both factors.

  • Mental, emotional, and behavior problems include anxiety disorders, such as phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder; major depression; bipolar disorder or manic-depressive illness; attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder; learning disorders; conduct disorders; eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia; autism; and schizophrenia.
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Mental Health and Child Welfare Fact Sheets

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