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Canadian Study: Rates of Mental Illness Steady in Children and Teens

Canadian Study: Rates of Mental Illness Steady in Children and Teens

A large study of Canadian youth discovers symptoms of mental illness in children and adolescents do not appear to be increasing.

The finding, as published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal), suggests a different mental health trajectory compared to some media reports.

“Popular media tends to perpetuate the idea that the prevalence of mental disorders is increasing,” writes Ian Colman, Ph.D., Canada Research Chair in Mental Health Epidemiology and associate professor at the University of Ottawa. “However, research supporting this position has been inconsistent.”

Colman and colleagues sought to better understand whether symptoms of mental illness are increasing, specifically hyperactivity, aggression, depression and anxiety, suicidal thinking, and behavior.

Researchers looked at data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth over a 10-year period. The survey involves a group of children and adolescents from across the provinces queried every two years.

Their study included 11,725 children aged 10–11 years (1994/95–2004/05); 10,574 aged 12–13 years (1996/97–2006/07); and 9,835 aged 14–15 years (1998/99–2008/09).

Participants were asked by confidential questionnaire to describe their feelings and behaviors and the frequency at which they experienced them in the previous week.

Researchers discovered the following patterns:

  • Depression and anxiety: mean symptom scores did not change significantly in children aged 10–11 years and 12–13 years;
  • There was a small but statistically significant decline in depression and anxiety in adolescents aged 14–15;
  • Physical aggression and indirect aggression such as antisocial or manipulative behavior declined in all three age groups;
  • Suicidal behaviour: a decline in the percentage of youth aged 12–13 and 14–15 years who reported or attempted suicide;
  • Hyperactivity increased significantly in children aged 10–11 and 12–13 years.

Public perceptions of the prevalence of mental illness tend to be fueled by the media. Relatively recent efforts to destigmatize mental illness, which can lead to increased recognition of symptoms and treatment-seeking behavior, may be a reason mental illness is erroneously believed to be increasing, say the authors.

Survey findings also suggest that suicidal behavior is on the decline, although the picture remains murky.

“Encouragingly, results from this study suggest that suicidal ideation and suicide attempts may be declining,” write the authors.

“Though there is no conclusive evidence for the efficacy of various efforts in preventing suicide, some strategies, including physician education and certain school-based strategies, show promise in reducing suicidal behaviors.”

Researchers believe continued efforts in suicide prevention, ongoing evaluations regarding the efficacy of prevention programs, and enhanced interventions targeting mental illness in teens are necessary to improve the mental health of adolescents.

Source: Canadian Medical Association Journal/EurekAlert

Canadian Study: Rates of Mental Illness Steady in Children and Teens

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Canadian Study: Rates of Mental Illness Steady in Children and Teens. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 4 Nov 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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