Children’s Mental Health

Mental health in childhood means reaching developmental and emotional milestones, and learning healthy social skills and how to cope when there are problems. According to Center for Disease Control, mentally healthy children have a positive quality of life and can function well at home, in school and in their communities.

Stats and Facts

Childhood Mental Health Disorders are conditions that affect a child’s development, emotions, behaviors or learning to an extent that it interferes with their personal, family or school life. Recent mental health surveys indicate that among children ages 3-17, prevalence of current diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was 7%, other behavioral or conduct disorder was 3.5%, anxiety was 3% and depression was 2% of the population.

  • ADHD was the most prevalent current diagnosis among children aged 3–17 years.
  • The number of children with a mental disorder increased with age, with the exception of autism spectrum disorders, which was highest among 6to 11 year old children.
  • Adolescent boys aged 12–17years were more likely than girls to die by suicide.
  • Adolescent girls were more likely than boys to have depression or an alcohol use disorder.
  • Between 4-5% of adolescents had an illicit drug use disorder or an alcohol use disorder.
  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death among age group of 10-14 years and the second among age group of15-34 years.
  • In 2013, 13 % of high school students (1 in 7) all over the US made a plan to attempt suicide in and 8% (1 in 12) actually attempted suicide in the previous 12 months.

But kids do not get depressed!

While for the most part children and teens are resilient and able to tolerate some stressful situations, children as young as preschoolers may show signs of depression and anxiety. It is important to note that sadness or some worrying in itself does not mean that the child has a diagnosis of depression or anxiety disorder. Like most mental and medical conditions, depression and anxiety result from an interplay of genetic and environmental risk factors which need to be considered while looking at changes in behaviors in children. Numerous brain research studies indicate that a depressed or an anxious brain functions very differently from a non-depressed and a non-anxious brain. So, yes, depression and anxiety are real disorders. The good news is that early intervention will prevent long term brain changes.

What should I watch out for in my child?

Changes in sleep or appetite; frequent tearfulness or crying; increased irritability, anger, or hostility; school refusal or social isolation; poor attention and focus or forgetfulness; trouble following directions, excessive fidgetiness and always being “on the go”; refusing to go to school, worrying or fears about parent’s safety; frequent ache and pains; worries about things before they happen; bedwetting or baby talk.

While this is not an extensive list, it will help you be aware of some of the behaviors that need further attention. Trust your gut instincts if you are worried about any other behaviors that your child is displaying.

I think my child needs help, what do I do next?

It is best to talk to your child’s pediatrician and get referrals and recommendations for further treatment. This might entail seeing a therapist, counselor, developmental pediatrician or a child psychiatrist.

How do I know what is the right treatment for my child?

Check the credentials of the professional to make sure that they are either trained and/or have experience working with children. This is because children are not “mini adults”. They think and behave very differently than adults. Depression might present as irritability, and not sadness in children, and hence a therapist without any experience working with children might not provide an accurate diagnosis.

A trained and experienced mental health professional customizes the treatment approaches for your child. For example, the therapist may decide to work on play therapy or family therapy based on their clinical determination. They may also refer you to see a psychiatrist in addition to psychotherapy based on their judgment for further management if they think that therapy alone may not be adequate treatment for the child.

Always ask questions about what approaches are best for your child and why. Obtain continuing feedback from the professional and provide them with your observations from home or school to help the professional formulate the treatment better.

For more information about services for your family, upcoming events or how to get involved visit www.center-for-children.org