Objective: This study was done to update and expand information given in recent reviews, provide a more systematic critique of past research, identify current research trends and issues, and explore possible strategies for future research in child psychiatric epidemiology.
Method: The authors identified and reviewed 52 studies done over the past four decades that attempted to estimate the overall prevalence of child and adolescent psychiatric disorders.
Results: About as many studies have been published since 1980 as were published before. Sample sizes ranged from 58 to 8,462; most were in the 500-1,000 range. Studies were carried out in over 20 countries, most frequently the United States and the United Kingdom. Subjects' ages ranged from 1 to 18 years. Rutter's criteria were the most frequently used for case definition; more recent studies were more likely to use DSM criteria. The most frequently used interview was the Rutter schedule. The most common time frame for calculating prevalence was the present, followed by 6 months and 1 year. Prevalence estimates of psychopathology ranged from approximately 1% to nearly 51% (mean = 15.8%). Median rates were 8% for preschoolers, 12% for preadolescents, 15% for adolescents, and 18% in studies including wider age ranges.
Conclusions: The evidence is less informative than expected because of several problems that continue to plague research on child and adolescent disorders. These involve sampling, case ascertainment, case definition, and data analyses and presentation. Progress in understanding the epidemiology of child disorders will largely depend on whether future research successfully meets these challenges.