Objective: To provide a current national profile of the prevalence and impact of parent-reported disabling mental health conditions in U.S. children.
Method: A cross-sectional descriptive analysis of 99,513 children younger than 18 years old included in the 1992-1994 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). The response rate exceeded 94% in each year. Disability is defined as the long-term reduction in a child's ability to perform social role activities, such as school or play, as a result of his/her mental health condition.
Results: On average, 2.1% of U.S. children were reported to suffer from a disabling mental health condition in 1992-1994. The most common reported causes of disability include mental retardation, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and learning disabilities. While national prevalence estimates were produced for some low-prevalence conditions such as autism (38/100,000), for many specific diagnoses the reported prevalence rates were too low for accurate national population estimates using this data set. Logistic regression analysis demonstrates that prevalence of a disabling mental health condition was higher for older children; males; children from low-income, single-parent families; and those with less education. These conditions are also associated with high rates of special education participation (approximately 80%) and health system use.
Conclusions: The NHIS provides a useful and untapped resource for estimating the prevalence of disabling mental health conditions. These conditions are increasingly prevalent and have a profound impact on children and the educational and health care systems.