Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD)
Coping with Chronic Illness
Child Behavior Disorders
Children Mental Health
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Young people can have mental,
emotional, and behavioral problems that are real, painful,
and costly. These problems, often called "disorders," are
sources of stress for children and their families, schools,
The number of young people and their families who are affected
by mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders is significant.
It is estimated that as many as one in five children and
adolescents may have a mental health disorder that can be
identified and require treatment.
Mental health disorders in children and adolescents are
caused by biology, environment, or a combination of the two.
Examples of biological factors are genetics, chemical imbalances
in the body, and damage to the central nervous system, such
as a head injury. Many environmental factors also can affect
mental health, including exposure to violence, extreme stress,
and the loss of an important person.
Families and communities, working together, can help children
and adolescents with mental disorders. A broad range of services
is often necessary to meet the needs of these young people
and their families.
Below are descriptions of particular mental, emotional, and
behavioral disorders that may occur during childhood and
adolescence. All can have a serious impact on a child's
overall health. Some disorders are more common than others,
and conditions range from mild to severe. Often, a child
has more than one disorder (U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services, 1999).
Young people who experience excessive fear, worry, or uneasiness
may have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are among
the most common of childhood disorders. According to one
study of 9- to 17-year-olds, as many as 13 of every 100
young people have an anxiety disorder (U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services, 1999). Anxiety disorders
- Phobias, which are unrealistic and overwhelming fears
of objects or situations.
- Generalized anxiety disorder, which causes children to
demonstrate a pattern of excessive, unrealistic worry that
cannot be attributed to any recent experience.
disorder, which causes terrifying "panic attacks" that
include physical symptoms, such as a rapid heartbeat and
disorder, which causes children to become "trapped" in
a pattern of repeated thoughts and behaviors, such as
counting or hand washing.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder, which causes a pattern
of flashbacks and other symptoms and occurs in children
who have experienced a psychologically distressing event,
such as abuse, being a victim or witness of violence, or
exposure to other types of trauma such as wars or natural
Many people once believed that severe depression did not
occur in childhood. Today, experts agree that severe depression
can occur at any age. Studies show that two of every 100
children may have major depression, and as many as eight
of every 100 adolescents may be affected (National Institutes
of Health, 1999). The disorder is marked by changes in:
often feel sad, cry, or feel worthless.
lose interest in play activities, or schoolwork declines.
- Physical well-being—Children
may experience changes in appetite or sleeping patterns
and may have vague physical complaints.
believe they are ugly, unable to do anything right, or
that the world or life is hopeless.
It also is important for parents and caregivers to be aware
that some children and adolescents with depression may not
value their lives, which can put them at risk for suicide.
Children and adolescents who demonstrate exaggerated mood
swings that range from extreme highs (excitedness or manic
phases) to extreme lows (depression) may have bipolar disorder
(sometimes called manic depression). Periods of moderate
mood occur in between the extreme highs and lows. During
manic phases, children or adolescents may talk nonstop,
need very little sleep, and show unusually poor judgment.
At the low end of the mood swing, children experience severe
depression. Bipolar mood swings can recur throughout life.
Adults with bipolar disorder (about one in 100) often experienced
their first symptoms during their teenage years (National
Institutes of Health, 2001).
Young people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
are unable to focus their attention and are often impulsive
and easily distracted. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity
disorder occurs in up to five of every 100 children (U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). Most children
with this disorder have great difficulty remaining still,
taking turns, and keeping quiet. Symptoms must be evident
in at least two settings, such as home and school, in order
for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder to be diagnosed.
Difficulties that make it harder for children and adolescents
to receive or express information could be a sign of learning
disorders. Learning disorders can show up as problems with
spoken and written language, coordination, attention, or
Young people with conduct disorder usually have little concern
for others and repeatedly violate the basic rights of others
and the rules of society. Conduct disorder causes children
and adolescents to act out their feelings or impulses in
destructive ways. The offenses these children and adolescents
commit often grow more serious over time. Such offenses
may include lying, theft, aggression, truancy, the setting
of fires, and vandalism. Current research has yielded varying
estimates of the number of young people with this disorder,
ranging from one to four of every 100 children 9 to 17
years of age (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
Children or adolescents who are intensely afraid of gaining
weight and do not believe that they are underweight may
have eating disorders. Eating disorders can be life threatening.
Young people with anorexia nervosa, for example, have difficulty
maintaining a minimum healthy body weight. Anorexia affects
one in every 100 to 200 adolescent girls and a much smaller
number of boys (National Institutes of Health, 1999).
Youngsters with bulimia nervosa feel compelled to binge
(eat huge amounts of food in one sitting). After a binge,
in order to prevent weight gain, they rid their bodies of
the food by vomiting, abusing laxatives, taking enemas, or
exercising obsessively. Reported rates of bulimia vary from
one to three of every 100 young people (National Institutes
of Health, 1999).
Children with autism, also called autistic disorder, have
problems interacting and communicating with others. Autism
appears before the third birthday, causing children to
act inappropriately, often repeating behaviors over long
periods of time. For example, some children bang their
heads, rock, or spin objects. Symptoms of autism range
from mild to severe. Children with autism may have a very
limited awareness of others and are at increased risk for
other mental disorders. Studies suggest that autism affects
10 to 12 of every 10,000 children (U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services, 1999).
Young people with schizophrenia have psychotic periods that
may involve hallucinations, withdrawal from others, and
loss of contact with reality. Other symptoms include delusional
or disordered thoughts and an inability to experience pleasure.
Schizophrenia occurs in about five of every 1,000 children
(National Institutes of Health, 1997).
Treatment, Support Services, and Research: Sources
Now, more than ever before, there is hope for young people
with mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Most of
the symptoms and distress associated with childhood and adolescent
mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders can be alleviated
with timely and appropriate treatment and supports.
In addition, researchers are working to gain new scientific
insights that will lead to better treatments and cures for
mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Innovative studies
also are exploring new ways of delivering services to prevent
and treat these disorders. Research efforts are expected
to lead to more effective use of existing treatments, so
children and their families can live happier, healthier,
and more fulfilling lives.
Many of these research studies are funded by Federal agencies
within the Department of Health and Human Services, including
- National Institutes of Health
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- National Institute of Mental Health
- National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
- National Institute on Drug Abuse
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Administration for Children and Families
Health Resources and Services Administration
- Center for Mental Health Services
- Center for Substance Abuse Prevention
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment
Important Messages About Children's and Adolescents'
- Every child's mental health is important.
- Many children have mental health problems.
- These problems are real and painful and can be severe.
- Mental health problems can be recognized and treated.
- Caring families and communities working together can
Mental Health Resources on the Internet
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
ClinicalTrials.gov, National Institutes of Health
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
National Institute of Mental Health