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Duke Study: Many Teens In Need Of Psychiatric Help Don't Seek It

Teens at a high school football game
Brad Barlow

More than half of teens with psychiatric disorders go untreated, and those who do get help often get it from non-mental health specialists, according to a study co-authored by Duke University researchers this month.

About 45 percent of teens who have a psychiatric disorder received treatment in the 12 months prior to the study, and those getting help most often receive it from school counselors, pediatricians or probation officers. 

“The schools really are carrying the major burden of dealing with and caring for children with emotional and behavioral problems,” said Jane Costello, a Duke University professor of psychology and epidemiology. “The schools have for a long time been carrying the major burden of dealing with children’s emotional and behavioral problems, and they’re doing it with very few trained personnel.”

The study, published in the Psychiatric Services journal, is based on a survey of 10,000 people between the ages of 13 and 17 across the country who participated in the National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement survey. This is the first time a study of this kind has been done on a national scale, Costello said.

Those most likely to get help were teens diagnosed with ADHD, conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder.   They find treatment in more than two out of every three cases, the study said. The least likely to get help were teens diagnosed with phobias or anxiety disorders, who find help in fewer of half of instances.

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