Despite a global decline in childhood infectious diseases, the prevalence of mental illness among youth has remained the same. That makes mental disorders one of the main origins of illness in children aged 4-15 years around the world, according to a new study published in the journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health.
In the paper, researchers from INSERM, the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, described the prevalence of mental disorders among children aged 5-14 years in each of the six regions of the World Health Organization: Africa, the Americas, South-East Asia, Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean and the West Pacific Region.
They discovered that even in emerging regions, the prevalence of mental disorders is high and constant over time.
“We found that the prevalence of mental disorders in young people remained stable between 2000 and 2015, which suggests that mental disorders are not decreasing in young people despite the global improvement of their physical health,” said study co-author Marie-Laure Baranne.
“In the future, the decrease of other, preventable diseases, such as diabetes, will lead to an increase in the importance of treating mental disorders for public health.”
Baranne co-authored the paper with Bruno Falissard. The authors found that in 2000, mental disorders ranked third in the Americas and in Europe among the causes of “disability adjusted life years” (DALYs). DALYs is defined as the lost years of a healthy life due to disease or disability. It is a measure of disease burden, or the impact of a health problem in a population.
By 2015, mental disorders had reached second place as causes of DALYs in the Americas and Europe, while the impact of infectious diseases decreased. The change from infectious diseases to mental disorders as the main cause of DALYs in children is known as an epidemiological transition.
The impact of mental disorders on children’s health is going to become more important in the future as more countries make the transition from infection diseases to mental disorders as one of the top causes of poor health, according to the authors.
“Our study is intended as an urgent signal of alarm to international public health institutions and policy-makers. Given the impact of these mental disorders in the long term, organising a global policy to address this issue requires careful preparation,” said Baranne.
Among boys, the most common mental disorders associated with DALYs were conduct disorders, autism-Asperger syndrome and anxiety disorders. Among girls they were anxiety disorders, conduct disorders and major depressive disorder.
The authors also noticed that income plays a role: regions with the highest gross domestic product were found to have fewer problems with infectious diseases and more problems with mental disorders.
The authors acknowledge that that the calculation of DALYs depends on parameters that are only known as approximations and based on multiple sources of information containing potential errors. This may introduce some uncertainty into estimates.
Source: BioMEd Central