mental disorders in children

mental disorders in children

Main mental disorders in children

Mental disorders in children and when to seek professional help is a complex issue. Children are susceptible to mental disorders as much as what adults are. The challenge comes in ascertaining that a child’s behaviour is indicating a mental disorder.

As children grow, they experience a variety of emotions, developmental milestones, and age appropriate behaviors. Their limited vocabulary prevents them and us, as parents, from fully discerning between age-appropriate phases in behavior vs a mental disorder. Besides still developing vocabulary skills, children are also developing their skills in relating to others and the world they find themselves in. Finally, children develop at their own pace.

Fortunately, parents and professionals continue to work towards earlier diagnosis of mental disorders in children to help children learn the necessary skills and medications for living a fuller and steadier life.

Within the psychological world exists a plethora of mental disorders that affect both adults and children. Amidst this vast selection of disorders are several more common disorders among children. We want to hone in on a handful of these mental health conditions to help both parents and caregivers better discern if their child requires professional help:

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is perhaps one of the more common phrases we hear today in conjunction with hyperactive children. Not all busy children are ADHD, despite the opinions of their teachers or parents. For a child to be diagnosed with ADHD, their hyperactivity and energy levels need to be continuous and severe.

In general, the symptoms of ADHD include a short attention span, trouble listening, forgetfulness, easily distracted, leave tasks incomplete, careless mistakes, frequent interruption, incredibly talkative, hyperactivity and fidgetiness.


Usually, children with anxiety disorders will experience higher than normal levels of distress, fear, worry, and unease. While some worry or fear is considered normal, parents should be aware that persistent fear or worry that affects a child’s ability to function normally is a warning flag to seek professional assistance.

Within the anxiety disorder umbrella, children may be struggling with social phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), separation anxiety, and so on.


Depression is becoming increasingly more common among today’s youth. It often accompanies other disorders and in severe cases suicide. Perhaps this is what makes it a challenging disorder to determine. However, depression is prevalent and should be treated to avoid and treat other mental disorders.

The symptoms of depression include a feeling of worthlessness and hopelessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, poor decision making, loss of interest in social interactions and other activities, anger, irritability, increased sensitivity, crying or other emotional outbursts.

Eating disorders

Children with eating disorders are more commonly found amongst older children or adolescents. These young people struggle with poor self-esteem, fatigue, mood swings (particularly depressed mood swings), irritability, all-or-nothing thinking, and poor concentration.

The eating disorders that often accompany these warning signs include anorexia nervosa – an eating disorder in which a child will obsess over their weight to the point of under eating and over exercising; bulimia nervosa in which a person will eat large amounts of food after which they will either exercise excessively or force themselves to “throw up” their food.


Affecting 1-2 people out of every 1,000, autism is a common mental disorder in today’s society. Autism affects both boys and girls; although, more prevalent among boys. It is often characterized with language delays and mental retardation as well as some children who are incredibly intelligent. Autistic children often come across as indifferent, immersed in their own world, and lacking in forming emotional connections with others.

Mental disorders in children: Signs to watch out for

Unlike physical illnesses, symptoms for mental disorders in children are a bit more complex than a fever or aches and pains. Fortunately, pinpointing those out of the norm or even slightly unusual signs are possible especially when you know what to look for.  Here are some of the underlying signs to watch out for:

  • Frequent angry outbursts
  • Changes in eating and sleeping behaviors
  • Constant worry
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Obsession with weight
  • Physical aggression towards others and themselves
  • Lack of motivation or energy
  • Decline in school performance
  • Change in social interactions with family and friends, particularly regarding avoiding social interactions

Besides these helpful signs to watch out for, as a parent, you know your child, thus, you will be aware of those red flags warning you that something is not quite right with your child. That is the time, to investigate whether it is through communicating with your child, speaking to their school teachers, or seeking professional help.

Seeking professional help

Watch your child’s behaviour closely. The moment you are concerned or your parenting radar is on high alert warning you that something is wrong with your child, please seek professional help. A parent’s instincts are worth heeding. Even if you can’t explain it, at the very least you can begin taking steps to helping your child by understanding and investigating their world.

If your child is displaying several of the symptoms mentioned above, seek professional help whether it be from your local doctor or trying to find a child psychologist or another mental health professional. Help your child sooner rather than later develop an improved quality of life that will be rewarding to both them and you. Mental disorder in children are not a sign of weakness or bad parenting. Sound advice would also be to talk about your own fears and representations to a mental health professional.


Kids Mental Health Informational Portal. Children’s Behavioural and Emotional Disorders

  1. Mental illness in children: Know the signs. Mayo Clinic.

Common Mental Health Diagnosis In Children and Youth. ACMH

Dryden-Edwards, Roxanne. 2016. Mental Illness in Children.

Mental Health Disorders in Children and Youth. Children’s Mental Health Ontario.