To examine: 1) changes in the prevalence of mental disorders and perceived need for professional help among children (ages 4 to 11) and youth (ages 12 to 16) between 1983 and 2014 in Ontario and 2) whether these changes vary by age and sex, urban-rural residency, poverty, lone-parent status, and immigrant background.
The 1983 ( n = 2836) and 2014 ( n = 5785) Ontario Child Health Studies are provincially representative cross-sectional surveys with identical self-report checklist measures of conduct disorder, hyperactivity, and emotional disorder, as well as perceived need for professional help, assessed by integrating parent and teacher responses (ages 4 to 11) and parent and youth responses (ages 12 to 16).
The overall prevalence of perceived need for professional help increased from 6.8% to 18.9% among 4- to 16-year-olds. An increase in any disorder among children (15.4% to 19.6%) was attributable to increases in hyperactivity among males (8.9% to 15.7%). Although the prevalence of any disorder did not change among youth, conduct disorder decreased (7.2% to 2.5%) while emotional disorder increased (9.2% to 13.2%). The prevalence of any disorder increased more in rural and small to medium urban areas versus large urban areas. The prevalence of any disorder decreased for children and youth in immigrant but not nonimmigrant families.
Although there have been decreases in the prevalence of conduct disorder, increases in other mental disorders and perceived need for professional help underscore the continued need for effective prevention and intervention programs.