Child Mental Health

Childhood involves rapid growth and change. Children are developing physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially. Healthy children develop the ability to respond to change and recover from life’s challenges. They feel good about themselves, get along well in their family, with their friends, and in their community, and enjoy school and after school activities.

It is typical for children to have problems. Most difficulties are short term and do not require mental health treatment. However, if problems are serious and persistent parents should seek professional help.

How Common Are Mental Disorders in Children?

Many mental disorders can begin in childhood. An estimated 1 in 10 children and adolescents suffer from mental illness. However, less than 1 in 5 of these children receive treatment.

What Are Some Types of Mental Disorders in Children?

Children may experience a single disorder, or more than one at the same time. Some common disorders include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit and disruptive disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Mood disorders

Disorders of anxiety and mood usually involve repeated, intense emotional distress lasting months or years. These children may experience unreasonable fear and anxiety, lasting depression, and low self-worth.

Children with attention deficit, disruptive disorders, may be inattentive, hyperactive, aggressive, and/or defiant. They may repeatedly break rules or disrupt classrooms.

Eating disorders typically involve extreme under or over eating, and feelings of severe distress about body shape or weight.

What Causes Mental Illnesses in Children?

The precise cause of most mental disorders is not fully understood. In general, mental disorders result from a combination of genetic and other biological factors, and nurturing and other environmental factors. The influence between biology and environment is complicated. The brain influences behavior, and experience effects the development of the brain.

When Do I Need to Seek Help?

It is typical for children to misbehave and to feel anxious or sad. Two year olds say “NO.” Teenagers sometimes question authority. Therefore, it is important to distinguish between typical behavior changes, and signs of more serious problems. Problems deserve more attention when they are severe, persistent, and impact the child’s daily activities.

Where Can I Get Help?

First, consult your child’s doctor. Ask for a complete health examination of your child. Tell the doctor about the behaviors that concern you. Ask if further evaluation or treatment by a specialist in child behavioral problems is needed. Mental health specialists include psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists, psychiatric nurses, and behavioral therapists.

You may also want to contact your child’s school. Children spend much of their day at school. Teachers and school counselors may also be able to help.

Your child may be eligible to receive mental health services from the County Mental Health Plan. The County has a toll free number available 24 hours a day. They will be able to talk with you in your preferred language, and answer questions about your child’s behavior. Their services and phone numbers are listed in the county government pages of your local phone book.

What Treatments are Available?

Mental disorders are treatable. For most mental disorders there are a range of treatments. Most treatments fall under two general categories, psychosocial (psychotherapy and other services) and pharmacological (medication). A combination of the two, known as multimodal therapy can sometimes be even more effective. Treatments generally need to be tailored to the client and to client preferences.

Where Can I Get More Information?

Center for Mental Health Services
Child, Adolescent, and Family Branch
KEN Clearing House: (800) 789-2647

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
Children and Adolescents Network
(800) 950-6264

National Mental Health Association

National Institute of Mental Health
(888) 826-9438