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Childhood Mental Health Disorders

  • Published: 2012-11-01 (Revised/Updated 2017-08-14) : Author: Wendy Taormina-Weiss : Contact: Disabled World
  • Synopsis: Information regarding childhood mental health disorders that have the potential to disrupt daily life at school at home or in the community.

Main Document

"Eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa and anorexia are serious mental health disorders that affect children and adolescents."

Recognizing when your child has a fever can be easy. Recognizing when your child is experiencing a form of mental health disorder can be more difficult and harder to identify, although you can learn to recognize the symptoms.

It is important to pay attention to excessive fear, anger, anxiety, or sadness your child feels.

Any sudden changes in the behaviors your child exhibits can also be signs that an issue exists, as well as behaviors such as destroying or harming things, or exercising too much.

Some of the mental health disorders children experience include:

Childhood mental health disorders have the potential to disrupt daily life at school, at home, or in the community. Without assistance, the disorder a child experiences may lead to drug or alcohol abuse, difficulties at school, family issues, violence, or possibly even suicide. A number of treatment options are available through your health care provider if you have concerns about your child's mental health. The experience of a childhood mental health disorder can affect a child's ability to both make and maintain friends, as well as to succeed at school. A number of childhood mental health disorders can be successfully treated through therapy and medications. Some different risk factors or causes for these disorders exist including:

Of the mental health disorders children experience, some are more common than others. The mental health disorders children more commonly experience include ones such as ADHD, Anxiety Disorders, Pervasive Developmental Disorders, Mood Disorders, Eating Disorders, and Schizophrenia. What follows are descriptions of these disorders.

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is characterized by certain behaviors including hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention. Children who experience ADHD have a difficult time sitting still, concentrating, taking turns, and behaving in a socially-appropriate manner. According to the National Mental Health Information Center, the symptoms of ADHD need to be present in at least two settings in order to meet the diagnostic criteria.

Anxiety Disorders

A number of children experience anxiety on their first day of school, for example, or when they have to take a test. The fact is - overwhelming fear and anxiety may become debilitating and lead to an anxiety disorder. There are five main anxiety disorders a child may experience to include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or specific phobias.

Pervasive Developmental Disorders

Pervasive developmental disorders fall on the autism spectrum. The symptoms are usually recognized by the parents of the child. Often times, a baby or child who is developing averagely will begin to present signs of one of the disorders. The symptoms of the disorders include things such as a lack of language skills, poor eye contact, a lack of social skills, a lack of facial expressions, or an obsession about a particular toy or object.

Mood Disorders

A child may experience a mood disorder such as major depression or bipolar disorder. Two types of bipolar disorder exist; Bipolar I disorder and Bipolar II disorder. Bipolar I disorder is marked by major depressive episodes as well as manic episodes. Bipolar II disorder is marked by major depressive episodes and hypo-manic episodes. Common signs of depression include hopelessness, sadness, and feelings of worthlessness, difficulties with concentrating, difficulties with sleeping and eating, and fatigue. The symptoms of mania and hypomania include racing thoughts, extreme irritability or happiness, risk- taking behaviors, high energy, poor judgment, and a lack of sleep.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa and anorexia are serious mental health disorders that affect children and adolescents. Children who are afraid of eating and gaining weight, who exercise for extended periods of time, or who are secretive about their eating habits may experience a form of eating disorder.


Children and adolescents who meet the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia commonly have a break in reality or a, 'psychotic break.' They may experience delusions or hallucinations, social withdrawal, disordered thinking, and have a hard time making and maintaining friendships. Around 5 million children in America alone experience some form of serious mental illness that significantly interferes with their daily lives. In any particular year, approximately 20% of children in America will be diagnosed with a mental illness.

Children and Mental Health Issues

Use of the term, 'mental illness,' is not entirely correct because there are a number of physical factors involved as well, to include hereditary ones and brain chemistry, which may be involved in the development of a mental disorder. Due to this fact, many mental health disorders can be treated effectively with psychotherapy, medications, or a combination of the two. Identifying a mental health disorder in a child can be difficult, even for a health care provider. Children are different from adults in that they experience a number of mental, physical, and emotional changes as they move through their natural growth and development process. Children are also in the process of learning ways to adapt, cope with, and relate to both other people and the environment they find themselves in.

In addition, every child matures at their own rate. 'Average,' growth, maturity, and development fall within a wider range of abilities and behaviors than it does for adults. Due to this, a diagnosis of a mental health disorder must take into consideration how well a child is functioning in their home, with their family members, with their friends, while they are at school, and must also take into consideration the child's symptoms and their age.

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