Mental health is an important part of overall health for children as well as adults. For many adults who have mental disorders, symptoms were present—but often not recognized or addressed—in childhood and adolescence. For a young person with symptoms of a mental disorder, the earlier treatment is started, the more effective it can be. Early treatment can help prevent more severe, lasting problems as a child grows up.
It can be tough to tell if troubling behavior in a child is just part of growing up or a problem that should be discussed with a health professional. But if there are behavioral signs and symptoms that last weeks or months, and if these issues interfere with the child’s daily life at home and at school, or with friends, you should contact a health professional.
Young children may benefit from an evaluation and treatment if they:
Have frequent tantrums or are intensely irritable much of the time
Often talk about fears or worries
Complain about frequent stomachaches or headaches with no known medical cause
Are in constant motion and cannot sit quietly (except when they are watching videos or playing video games)
Sleep too much or too little, have frequent nightmares, or seem sleepy during the day
Are not interested in playing with other children or have difficulty making friends
Struggle academically or have experienced a recent decline in grades
Repeat actions or check things many times out of fear that something bad may happen.
Older children and adolescents may benefit from an evaluation if they:
Have lost interest in things that they used to enjoy
Have low energy
Sleep too much or too little, or seem sleepy throughout the day
Are spending more and more time alone, and avoid social activities with friends or family
Fear gaining weight, or diet or exercise excessively
Engage in self-harm behaviors (e.g., cutting or burning their skin)
Smoke, drink alcohol, or use drugs
Engage in risky or destructive behavior alone or with friends
Have thoughts of suicide
Have periods of highly elevated energy and activity, and require much less sleep than usual
Say that they think someone is trying to control their mind or that they hear things that other people cannot hear.
Mental Illnesses Can be Treated
If you are a child or teen, talk to your parents, school counselor, or health care provider. If you are a parent and need help starting a conversation with your child or teen about mental health, visit http://www.mentalhealth.gov/. If you are unsure where to go for help, ask your pediatrician or family doctor or visit NIMH’s Help for Mental Illnesses webpage.
It may be helpful for children and teens to save several emergency numbers to their cell phones. The ability to get immediate help for themselves or for a friend can make a difference.
The phone number for a trusted friend or relative
The non-emergency number for the local police department
The Crisis Text Line: 741741
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
If you or someone you know needs immediate help, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Source: The National Institute of Mental Health; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.