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Children and adolescents make up almost a quarter of the world's population with 85% living in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Globally, mental (and substance use) disorders are the leading cause of disability in young people; however, the representativeness or ‘coverage’ of the prevalence data is unknown. Coverage refers to the proportion of the target population (ages 5–17 years) represented by the available data.
Prevalence data for conduct disorder (CD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), eating disorders (EDs), depression, and anxiety disorders were sourced from systematic reviews conducted for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 (GBD 2010) and 2013 (GBD 2013). For each study, the location proportion was multiplied by the age proportion to give study coverage. Location proportion was calculated by dividing the total study location population by the total country population. Age proportion was calculated by dividing the population of the country aged within the age range of the study sample by the country population aged 5–17 years. If a study only sampled one sex, study coverage was halved. Coverage across studies was then summed for each country to give coverage by country. This method was repeated at the region and global level, and separately for GBD 2013 and GBD 2010.
Mean global coverage of prevalence data for mental disorders in ages 5–17 years was 6.7% (CD: 5.0%, ADHD: 5.5%, ASDs: 16.1%, EDs: 4.4%, depression: 6.2%, anxiety: 3.2%). Of 187 countries, 124 had no data for any disorder. Many LMICs were poorly represented in the available prevalence data, for example, no region in sub-Saharan Africa had more than 2% coverage for any disorder. While coverage increased between GBD 2010 and GBD 2013, this differed greatly between disorders and few new countries provided data.
The global coverage of prevalence data for mental disorders in children and adolescents is limited. Practical methodology must be developed and epidemiological surveys funded to provide representative prevalence estimates so as to inform appropriate resource allocation and support policies that address mental health needs of children and adolescents.
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