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Mental Illness Often Begins in Childhood

Mental Illness Often Begins in Childhood

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Dr. Kim Mulvihill reportingMental illness not only hits half of all Americans, but it often begins in childhood.

Researchers surveyed close to ten thousand Americans age 18 and older, and found nearly half of all lifetime cases of mental illness began by age fourteen.

"I'd like to think of childhood as a period of contentment, challenges certainly. What we see instead from many youth is depression and anxiety."

Depression and anxiety early in life that's left untreated may derail a young person from being successful at school, and later on in relationships, work and health.

And while good treatments exist, this study found young people suffering from mental illness may wait decades before getting help.

Many kids believe they're immune to mental illness, and parents may believe the mood swings are just part of growing up.

Dr. Susan Smiga is a specialist in pediatric psychiatry at UCSF's Langley Porter Center. She says early diagnosis and treatment are key.

"When we treat a disorder, a mental illness, we may be able to alter the course so that the impact later in life is less," she says.

The study looked at specific kinds of mental illnesses, including anxiety, mood-- such as depression-- and substance abuse disorders, and found these disorders in the U.S. are quite common.

Experty warn untreated disease may lead to changes in the brain, and result in more frequent and more severe episodes.

"There's some suggestion that with each episode of bipolar illness, that the brain becomes more sensitized in a way so the liklihood of having another episode is higher, and with each successive episode that rate increases. We know that with depresion there is some evidence to support that as well."

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