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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 can be seen as normal child development. And some require professional help.

Children's mental health is as important as their physical health. Great care should be taken to help a child who has a mental health problem. Mental, behavioral, or emotional disorders can affect the child's future.

The following answers to questions parents often ask can help you protect your child's mental health.

How do I know if my child's problems are serious?

Problems deserve attention when they are severe, lasting, and affect daily activities.

Seek help if your child:

  • Is often sad, worried or fearful

  • Has striking changes in appetite or sleep needs

  • Is spending most of his or her time alone instead of with friends or family

  • Has decreasing grades or interest in school

  • Is hyperactive, impulsive, or has trouble concentrating

  • Is self-destructive or overly aggressive toward others

Whom should I go to for help?

First, have your child seen by a health care provider. Your health care provider may recommend that you take your child to a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or behavioral therapist.

How are mental disorders diagnosed in young children?

Disorders are diagnosed by observing signs and symptoms. A skilled professional will look at symptoms on the basis of the child's age and reports from parents and other caretakers or teachers.

Which mental disorders are commonly seen in children and teens?

  • Anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders like panic or generalized anxiety are the most common mental health problems in children and adolescents.

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Its symptoms include poor attention and concentration. Children with ADHD are easily distracted and act on impulse.

  • Depression. It affects mood, energy, interests, sleep, appetite, and overall functioning. Symptoms are extreme and lasting. 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. Periods of disruption switch off with periods of withdrawal and other depressive symptoms.

How are children with mental health problems treated?

Sometimes, psychotherapies, behavioral strategies, and family support may be all a child needs. In other cases, medications are needed to help the child cope. If medication is prescribed, the child should be watched and evaluated regularly.

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 improve and go on to live full and healthy lives as adults. Seeking help early is key to a positive result.