Mental disorders in children are quite common and sometimes severe. About one-fourth of children and teens experience some type of mental disorder in any given year, one-third at some time in their lives. The most common kind of mental disorders are anxiety disorders, like overanxious disorder of childhood. Other childhood disorders and concerns that affect how children learn, behave, or handle their emotions can include learning and developmental disabilities, autism, and risk factors like substance use and self-harm.


  • Changes in school performance, such as poor grades despite good efforts
  • 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, skipping school, stealing, or damaging property
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Long-lasting negative moods, often accompanied by poor appetite and thoughts of death
  • Frequent outbursts of anger
  • Loss of interest in friends and activities they usually enjoy
  • Significant increase in time spent alone
  • Hyperactivity
  • Persistent nightmares Persistent disobedience or aggressive behavior
  • Hearing voices or seeing things that are not there

How Is Mental Illness in Children Treated?

  • In terms of medications, medications from specific drug classes treat childhood mental illness. Examples include stimulant and nonstimulant classes of medications for treating ADHD, serotonergic medications for treating depression and anxiety, and neuroleptic medications for management of severe mood swings, anxiety, aggression.
  • Two major approaches treat childhood mental illness, interpersonal psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy. In general, these therapies take several weeks to months to complete. Each has a goal of alleviating symptoms. More intense psychotherapy may be needed for longer periods when treating very severe mental illness.
  • Behavioral techniques that health care providers often use to decrease symptoms in children with behavioral disorders like ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, or conduct disorder or to help children with anxiety disorders like separation anxiety disorder involve the parents, teacher, and other adult caretakers understanding the circumstances surrounding both positive and negative behaviors and how each kind of behavior is encouraged and discouraged.
  • Certain therapies, such as art therapy or play therapy, may be helpful, especially for young children who may have trouble communicating their thoughts and feelings.