An increasing number of adolescents have been diagnosed with a psychiatric or neurodevelopmental disorder, according to a national register study comparing Finnish birth cohorts from 1987 with 1997.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Turku, Finland, and the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), was published in the Lancet Psychiatry journal.
The study is part of an extensive research project and was led by research professor Mika Gissler, Ph.D., from THL. Their findings show that the share of girls who received a psychiatric or neurodevelopmental diagnosis was 10 percent in the older cohort (1987) and 15 percent in the younger cohort (1997).
For boys, six percent in the older cohort and nine percent in the younger cohort received a diagnosis. The diagnoses were recorded for both cohorts between ages 12 and 18.
In particular, the increase in the number of depression and anxiety diagnoses is a burden on special health care, say the researchers. The main form of treatment for both is psychotherapy, the availability of which is limited, noted the main author of the study, Docent David Gyllenberg.
The study does not necessarily indicate an increase in the psychiatric problems of adolescents, even though the findings point out a significant increase in the adolescents’ use of mental health care services, according to Professor of Child Psychiatry Andre Sourander, leader of the University of Turku research group.
It is a good thing that young people seek help, said Sourander, and those who need it receive treatment. The study suggests that the threshold for seeking help has lowered and the stigma related to it has been reduced, he says.
He said it would be important to examine whether adolescents with a certain diagnosis have received evidence-based treatment.
The researchers estimate that the growing burden on mental health care services should be alleviated by developing early identification and low threshold support models for primary health care in particular.
On the other hand, a significant group of adolescents is currently without special health care, as the service system is not very effective at identifying adolescents at risk of suicide. Less than a third of adolescents who died by suicide had received specialized services in the six months prior to their death. This finding is in line with previous study results.
Source: University of Turku