Nearly 5 million children in the U.S. have some type of serious mental illness (one that significantly interferes with daily life). In any given year, 20% of American children will be diagnosed with a mental illness. The term "mental illness" is not entirely accurate, because there are many "physical" factors -- including heredity and brain chemistry -- that might be involved in the development of a mental disorder. As such, many mental disorders can be effectively treated with medication, psychotherapy (a type of counseling), or a combination of both.

Mental Health in Children
Identifying mental disorders in children can be tricky for health care providers. Children differ from adults in that they experience many physical, mental, and emotional changes as they progress through their natural growth and development. They also are in the process of learning how to cope with, adapt, and relate to others and the world around them. Furthermore, each child matures at his or her own pace, and what is considered "normal" in children falls within a wide range of behavior and abilities. For these reasons, any diagnosis of a mental disorder must consider how well a child functions at home, within the family, at school, and with peers, as well as the child's age and symptoms.

Which Mental Health Conditions Are Most Common in Children?
There are several different types of mental disorders that can affect children and adolescents, including: • Anxiety disorders : Children with anxiety disorders respond to certain things or situations with fear and dread, as well as with physical signs of anxiety (nervousness), such as a rapid heartbeat and sweating. • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) : Children with ADHD generally have problems paying attention or concentrating, can't seem to follow directions, and are easily bored and/or frustrated with tasks. They also tend to move constantly and are impulsive (do not think before they act). • Disruptive behavior disorders : Children with these disorders tend to defy rules and often are disruptive in structured environments, such as school. • Pervasive development disorders : Children with these disorders are confused in their thinking and generally have problems understanding the world around them. • Eating disorders : Eating disorders involve intense emotions and attitudes, as well as unusual behaviors associated with weight and/or food. • Elimination disorders : Disorders that affect behavior related to using the bathroom. Enuresis, or bedwetting, is the most common of the elimination disorders.

• Learning and communication disorders : Children with these disorders have problems storing and processing information. although they can continue into adulthood. and environmental stress. It is not unusual for a child to have more than one disorder. Others begin in childhood only. a vulnerability to the disorders. but research suggests that a combination of factors. stealing. • Heredity (genetics) : Many mental disorders run in families. eating disorders. • Schizophrenia : This disorder involves distorted perceptions and thoughts. can occur in adults as well as children. • Biology : Some mental disorders have been linked to special chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. involuntary (not done on purpose). but some of the general symptoms include: • Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol • Inability to cope with daily problems and activities • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits • Excessive complaints of physical ailments • Defying authority. often accompanied by poor appetite and thoughts of death • Frequent outbursts of anger • Changes in school performance. • Tic disorders : These disorders cause a person to perform repeated. mood disorders and schizophrenia. might be passed on from parents to children through genes. messages might not make it through the brain correctly. leading to . such as getting poor grades despite good efforts • Loss of interest in friends and activities they usually enjoy • Significant increase in time spent alone • Excessive worrying or anxiety • Hyperactivity • Persistent nightmares or night terrors • Persistent disobedience or aggressive behavior • Frequent temper tantrums • Hearing voices or seeing things that are not there (hallucinations) What Causes Mental Disorders in Children? The exact cause of most mental disorders is not known. including heredity. and often meaningless movements and sounds. biology. Neurotransmitters help nerve cells in the brain communicate with each other. or damaging property • Intense fear of gaining weight • Long-lasting negative moods. such as anxiety disorders. or more accurately. as well as relating their thoughts and ideas. might be involved. What Are the Symptoms of Mental Illness in Children? Symptoms in children vary depending on the type of mental illness. If these chemicals are out of balance or not working properly. skipping school. Some of these disorders. called tics. suggesting that the disorders. sudden. and include depression and bipolar disorder. psychological trauma. • Affective (mood) disorders : These disorders involve persistent feelings of sadness and/or rapidly changing moods.

Although there are no lab tests to specifically diagnose mental disorders. because children often have trouble explaining their problems or understanding their symptoms. The most common treatment options used include: • Medication : The medications often used to treat mental disorders in children include antipsychotics (neuroleptics). health care professionals who are specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illness in children and teens. and outbursts of temper. teachers. Behaviors become symptoms when they occur very often. or cause significant disruption to the child's and/or family's life. What Are the Side Effects of Treatment for a Mental Illness? . such as neuroimaging and blood tests. last a long time. How Is Mental Illness in Children Diagnosed? As with adults. anti-anxiety drugs. Types of psychotherapy often used with children are supportive. including many medications. Many behaviors that are seen as symptoms of mental disorders. The doctor bases a diagnosis on reports of the child's symptoms and observation of the child's attitude and behavior. anxiety (nervousness). and mood stabilizing drugs. and neglect.symptoms. are the same as those used in adults but with different dosing. cognitive-behavioral. such as shyness. Psychiatrists and psychologists use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate a child for a mental disorder. strange eating habits. How Is Mental Illness in Children Treated? Mental illnesses are like many medical disorders. interpersonal. such as diabetes or heart disease. It is a process in which trained mental health professionals help people deal with their illness. to rule out physical illness or medication side effects as the cause of the symptoms. many of the treatment options used for children. The doctor then determines if the child's symptoms point to a specific mental disorder. • Psychotherapy : Psychotherapy (a type of counseling often simply called therapy) addresses the emotional response to mental illness. especially with young children who might have trouble communicating their thoughts and feelings. group. diagnosing mental illness in children can be especially difficult. stimulants. can occur as a normal part of a child's development. If no physical illness is found. If symptoms are present. physical. and family therapy. and other adults. that require ongoing treatment. such as severe emotional. • Creative therapies : Certain therapies. • Environmental stress : Stressful or traumatic events can trigger a disorder in a person with a vulnerability to a mental disorder. however. often by talking through strategies for understanding and dealing with their symptoms. For now. the doctor will begin an evaluation by performing a complete medical and developmental history and physical exam. such as the loss of a parent. The doctor often must rely on reports from the child's parents. might be helpful. In addition. and behaviors. • Psychological trauma : Some mental disorders might be triggered by psychological trauma. Although much progress has been made in the treatment of adults with mental disorders. antidepressants. thoughts. the child may be referred to a child and adolescent psychiatrist or psychologist. the treatment of children is not as well understood. defects in or injury to certain areas of the brain also have been linked to some mental disorders. mental disorders in children are diagnosed based on signs and symptoms. or sexual abuse. an important early loss. such as art therapy or play therapy. occur at an unusual age. the doctor might use various diagnostic tests. Experts are still exploring which treatments work best for which conditions in children.

The goal is to try to predict. A key part of this research is the identification of risk factors that increase a child's chances of developing a mental disorder. What Research Is Being Done on Mental Disorders in Children? To date. and ultimately. Can Mental Disorders in Children Be Prevented? Most mental disorders are caused by a combination of factors and cannot be prevented. However. and some children are not able to tolerate certain drugs. However. the mental health community is calling for additional research on medications used to treat children with mental disorders. even suicide. if symptoms are recognized and treatment is started early. What Is the Outlook for Children With Mental Disorders? Without treatment.Different medications have different side effects. prevent. many mental disorders can continue into adulthood and lead to problems in all areas of the person's adult life. and (depending on the type of disorder) violent or self-destructive behavior. . most research on mental illness has centered on adults. including alcohol or drug abuse. People with untreated mental disorders are at high risk for many problems. trying to understand how factors affecting development can have an impact on mental health. In addition. When treated appropriately and early. Researchers are looking at childhood development in terms of what is normal and abnormal. Although some children become disabled adults because of a chronic or severe disorder. many of the distressing and disabling effects of a mental disorder may be prevented or at least minimized. many people who experience a mental illness are able to live full and productive lives. Although the medications used to treat mental disorders in children are generally considered safe. the doctor might need to change drugs or dosages to minimize side effects. developmental problems that could lead to mental illness. the mental health community has now begun to focus on mental illness in children. many children can fully recover from their mental disorder or successfully control their symptoms. It may take some trial and error to find the medications that work best for an individual child.