The recent tragedy in Arizona reminds us all of the importance of the early identification of mental illness and the critical need for intervention with effective services and supports. Serious
mental illness impacts large numbers of our nation’s youth. Mental illness is treatable and the best outcomes occur with early identification and intervention. We can avoid the tragic and costly
consequences of unidentified and untreated mental illness in youth by taking action. We can and should do far better for our nation’s youth.
13% of youth aged 8-15 live with mental illness severe enough to cause significant impairment in their day-to-day lives. This figure jumps to 21% in youth aged 13-18.
Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and three quarters by age 24. Early identification and intervention improve outcomes for children, before these conditions become far
more serious, more costly and difficult to treat.
Despite the availability of effective treatment, there are average delays of 8 to 10 years between the onset of symptoms and intervention—critical developmental years in the life of a child. iv In
our nation, only about 20% of youth with mental illness receive treatment.
Unidentified and untreated mental illness is associated with serious consequences for children, families and communities
Approximately 50% of students aged 14 and older with mental illness drop out of high school—the highest dropout rate of any disability group.
90% of those who die by suicide have a mental illness.viii Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth aged 15-24; more youth and young adults die from suicide than from all natural
70% of youth in state and local juvenile justice systems have mental illness, with at least 20% experiencing severe symptoms. At the same time, juvenile facilities fail to adequately address the
mental health needs of youth in their custody.
We Need Action
There have been repeated calls by major non-partisan institutions for a national commitment to the early identification of mental health conditions and intervention with effective services and
In June 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics called for all pediatricians to screen children and adolescents for mental illness and substance use.
In April 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force called for physicians across the country to screen for depression in adolescents aged 12-18 because of the failure to identify this
serious condition in youth.