Other Youth Topics


  1. Youth Topics
  2. Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders Among Youth

Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders Among Youth

According to a 2010 report published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, titled 'Lifetime Prevalence of Mental Disorders in U.S. adolescents: Results From the National Comorbidity Survey Replication,' forty-nine point five percent of U.S. adolescents in this study had a mental disorder at some point in their lifetime. Of those affected, fourteen point three percent met criteria for mood disorders, thirty-one point nine percent met criteria for anxiety disorders, nineteen point six percent met criteria for behavior disorders, and eleven point four percent met criteria for substance use disorders. Forty-two percent of all affected youth also met criteria for a second disorder. Additionally, twenty-two point two percent of adolescents with disorders were classified as exhibiting severe impairment and or distress. Of those with severe impairment, eleven point two percent met criteria for severe mood disorders, eight point three percent met criteria for severe anxiety disorders, and nine point six percent met criteria for severe behavior disorders.
Click to Enlarge
Most youth are healthy, physically and emotionally, yet one in every four to five youth in the general population meet criteria for a lifetime mental disorder that is associated with severe role impairment and/or distress (11.2 percent with mood disorders, 8.3 percent with anxiety disorders, and 9.6 percent behavior disorders).1 A national and international literature review found that an average of 17 percent of young people experience an emotional, mental, or behavioral disorder. Substance abuse or dependence was the most commonly diagnosed group for young people, followed by anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.2 The rate of serious mental illness was higher for 18 to 25 year olds (7.4 percent) in 2008 than for any other age group over 18.3 In addition, the onset for 50 percent of adult mental health disorders occurs by age 14, and for 75 percent of adults by age 24.4

Depression and Suicide

In 2008, 8.1 percent of youth ages 12 to 17 and 8.7 percent of young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 had at least one depressive episode. In addition, six percent of 12- to 17-year-olds and 5.4 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds had at least one major depressive episode with severe impairment.5 Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, resulting in 4,513 deaths in 2008.6 Further, in a survey of private and public high school students,

  • 13.8 percent reported that they had seriously considered attempting suicide;
  • 10.9 percent had made a plan for how they would attempt suicide;
  • 6.3 percent reported that they had attempted suicide one or more times within the past year; and
  • 1.9 percent had made a suicide attempt that resulted in an injury, poisoning, or an overdose that had to be treated by a doctor or nurse.7

Youth at Higher Risk for Mental Illness

Youth from low-income households are at increased risk for mental health disorders:

  • Twenty-one percent of low-income children and youth ages 6 to 17 have mental health disorders.10
  • Fifty-seven percent of these low-income children and youth come from households with incomes at or below the federal poverty level.11

Youth involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems are at even higher risk for having a mental health disorder:

  • Fifty percent of children and youth in the child welfare system have mental health disorders.12
  • Sixty-seven to seventy percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosable mental health disorder.13
  • The risk for mental health problems, especially traumatic stress, is greatly increased for children who are living in foster care as a result of abuse and neglect. Children often suffer from traumatic stress after experiencing or witnessing the injury or death of someone else, or otherwise feeling seriously threatened.14

Youth of color experience disparities in prevalence and treatment for mental health issues:

  • Eighty-eight percent of Latino children and youth have unmet mental health needs, compared to 77 percent for African-Americans and 76 percent for white children and youth.15
  • Thirty-one percent of white children and youth receive mental health services compared to thirteen percent of children of color.16
  • Twenty percent of female Latino high school students seriously considered attempting suicide and 15.4 percent made a suicide plan, compared to 16.1 percent of white female high school students who considered it and 12.3 percent who made a suicide plan.17

Youth who have disabilities experience mental health issues at higher rates than their peers without disabilities:

  • Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are more likely than their nondisabled peers to experience depression and anxiety.18
  • Youth with learning disabilities have increased risk for severe depression and suicide.19
  • Youth with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy and spina bifida have increased risk for severe depression.20

Many youth also face co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders. Click to learn more about co-occurring disorders and substance use.


Adolescent Mental Health
The Office of Population Affairs website provides information on a range of topics including mental health. You can review national level data as well as state specific information. In addition there is information on mental health disorders, access to care, and positive mental health and resilience.

Child Health USA
Child Health USA is the Health Resources and Services Administration's annual report on the health status and service needs of America's children. The book is a compilation of secondary data for many health status indicators, and provides both graphical and textual summaries of data and addresses long-term trends. The site provides information on a range of indicators, including mental health.

Healthy Youth Mental Health
This Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website provides information on mental health targeted at youth adolescent and school health. The site includes information from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey data and school policies and programs to support youth mental health.

Mental Health Statistics
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released Mental Health, United States, 2010, the latest in a series of publications issued biannually since 1980. This report includes mental health statistics at the national and state levels from 35 different data sources.

Youth and Mental Health Issues
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Office of Applied Studies provides national estimates on mental health problems including a section targeted specifically to youth mental health issues. The latest available data was released in 2010.

Youth Suicide
Suicide is a serious public health problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on youth suicide, risk factors, and prevalence data as a subsection of their information on suicide prevention. The information on suicide prevention includes definition, data and statistics, risk and protective factors, prevention methods, and additional resources and links to more information.   

Youth Risk and Behavior Survey: Data Summary and Trends Report, 2007 - 2017
This Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report provides data summary and trend information on varying topics, including mental health and suicide.


1 Merikangas, He, Burstein, et al., 2010
2 O’Connell, Boat, & Warner, 2009
3 SAMHSA, 2009
4 Kessler, et al. 2007
5 SAMHSA, 2009
6 CDC, 2008
7 CDC, 2009
8 SAMHSA, 2009
9 Kataoka, et al 2002
10 Howell, 2004
11 Howell, 2004
12 Burns et al., 2004
13 Skowyra & Cocozza, 2006
14 Pynoos et al., 2004
15 Kataoka, Zhang, & Wells, 2002
16 Ringel & Sturm, 2001
17 CDC, 2009
18 Strang et al., 2012
19 Huntington & Bender, 1993
20 Steele, 1996

Other Resources on this Topic




Youth Topics

Youth Briefs

How Individualized Education Program (IEP) Transition Planning Makes a Difference for Youth with Disabilities

Youth who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and especially young adults of transition age, should be involved in planning for life after high school as early as possible and no later than age 16. Transition services should stem from the individual youth’s needs and strengths, ensuring that planning takes into account his or her interests, preferences, and desires for the future.

Youth Transitioning to Adulthood: How Holding Early Leadership Positions Can Make a Difference

Research links early leadership with increased self-efficacy and suggests that leadership can help youth to develop decision making and interpersonal skills that support successes in the workforce and adulthood. In addition, young leaders tend to be more involved in their communities, and have lower dropout rates than their peers. Youth leaders also show considerable benefits for their communities, providing valuable insight into the needs and interests of young people

How Trained Service Professionals and Self-Advocacy Makes a Difference for Youth with Mental Health, Substance Abuse, or Co-occurring Issues

Statistics reflecting the number of youth suffering from mental health, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders highlight the necessity for schools, families, support staff, and communities to work together to develop targeted, coordinated, and comprehensive transition plans for young people with a history of mental health needs and/or substance abuse.

Young Adults Formerly in Foster Care: Challenges and Solutions

Nearly 30,000 youth aged out of foster care in Fiscal Year 2009, which represents nine percent of the young people involved in the foster care system that year. This transition can be challenging for youth, especially youth who have grown up in the child welfare system.

Coordinating Systems to Support Transition Age Youth with Mental Health Needs

Research has demonstrated that as many as one in five children/youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Read about how coordination between public service agencies can improve treatment for these youth.

Civic Engagement Strategies for Transition Age Youth

Civic engagement has the potential to empower young adults, increase their self-determination, and give them the skills and self-confidence they need to enter the workforce. Read about one youth’s experience in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).