Answers to Questions About Your Child's Mental Health
Children can have mental health disorders that interfere with the way they think,
feel, and act. Some behavior problems are part of normal child development. And some
need professional help.
Children's mental health is as important as their physical health. A child who has
a mental health problem needs to get help. Mental, behavioral, or emotional disorders
can affect their future.
The following answers to questions parents often ask can help you protect your child's
How do I know if my child's problems are serious?
Problems deserve attention when they are severe, lasting, or affect daily activities.
Get help if your child:
Is often sad, worried, or fearful
Has major changes in appetite or sleep needs
Is spending most of their time alone instead of with friends or family
Has lower grades or less interest in school
Is hyperactive, impulsive, or has trouble focusing
Is self-destructive or overly aggressive toward others
Hurts, tortures, or kills animals
Where should I go for help?
First, have your child see their healthcare provider. The provider will first rule
out any health conditions that could be causing the symptoms. If no conditions are
found, the provider may advise you to take your child to a psychiatrist, psychologist,
licensed clinical social worker, or behavioral therapist. If your child goes to school,
the school's staff (counselors, school psychologists, and teachers) may become important
members of their treatment team.
How are mental disorders diagnosed in young children?
A mental health provider will make the diagnosis. They will take a detailed family
history, write down your child's developmental history, and watch current symptoms.
Standardized testing may also be done. A skilled mental health provider will analyze
all of the information. If certain diagnostic criteria are met, they will make a diagnosis.
These are based on the child's age and reports from parents and other caregivers or
Which mental disorders are often seen in children and teens?
Anxiety disorders. These are the most common mental health problems in children and teens. They include
panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.
ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). ADHD symptoms include poor attention and focus. Children with ADHD are easily distracted
and act on impulse.
Depression. This affects mood, energy, interests, sleep, appetite, and overall functioning. Symptoms
are extreme and are seen most days of the week. They can greatly interfere with the
ability to function at home or at school.
Bipolar disorder. This illness causes extreme shifts in mood, energy, and functioning. Times of disruption
switch off with periods of withdrawal and other depressive symptoms.
How are children with mental health problems treated?
Sometimes psychotherapies, behavioral strategies, classroom strategies, and family
support may be all a child needs. In other cases, medicines and family therapy are
needed to help them cope. If medicine is prescribed, your child should be watched
and assessed regularly. If family therapy is recommended, it's important to keep all
appointments for the length of therapy suggested.
If your child's mental health problems directly interfere with school performance,
special laws will allow reasonable school accommodations for their needs. These protective
laws fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Civil
Rights Act. Talk with your child's teacher and principal to see if these legal protections
apply to them.
When untreated, mental health disorders can lead to school failure, drug abuse, violence,
and even suicide.
Most children who receive the right kind of help get better. They go on to live full
and healthy lives as adults. Getting help early is key to a positive result.