Signs of Mental Illness in Children

Mental illness is sometimes difficult to spot, but as parents it is important to know the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses in our children. This way, we can pursue the help that our children need. One place to look for professional counseling is BetterHelp.

Even though children have some of the same mental health issues as adults, sometimes the symptoms are different. Since children are growing and developing, it is imperative that we notice the signs of mental health disorders as early as possible. Any disruption or delay in development, social skills, emotion management, or behaviors could be a mental health disorder.

Children can experience symptoms related to a plethora of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, disruptive behavior disorders, eating disorders, ADHD, or even schizophrenia. To find out more about specific disorders, check out the CDC page on disorders commonly diagnosed in children.

Common Mental Health Symptoms in Children

Anxiety is the most prevalent mental disorder among children. In fact, 7.1 percent of kids ages 3 to 17 have diagnosed anxiety. One study shows that treatment can be successful for reducing the severity of anxiety in children. However, to seek help for kids, you need to be aware that they have a mental health disorder.

General anxiety can cause the child to worry obsessively. This may also appear as irritability or anger. Anxiety can affect children’s sleeping habits as well which may lead to fatigue. Children suffering from anxiety may also have regular headaches and stomachaches.

Another type of anxiety disorder is obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. This can cause children to obsess over certain things or act compulsively. Sometimes, children with OCD will count, speak, or act in the same way repeatedly.

In addition to general anxiety and OCD, children often have separation anxiety which is a prevailing fear of being away from their parents. Many children also have phobias, social anxiety, or panic disorder.

Depression is also common and 3.2 percent of children have diagnosed depression. Depression is usually characterized by a feeling of sadness, hopelessness, or irritability. Children with depression often lose interest in things that they would normally enjoy and may have low energy levels. Sometimes, kids who suffer from depression will have changes in their eating and sleeping habits as well.

In severe cases, depression may cause a child to have destructive or self-harming behavior or impulses. This may also be accompanied by an interest in violence, death, or suicide. 

Since there are many other mental illnesses that affect children, it is also important to look for additional signs and symptoms. Any drastic changes in behavior could indicate a mental health problem. Rapid weight fluctuations, irritability, difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating, changes in behavior, altered academic performance, avoiding social situations including school, fear of weight gain, anger, hyperactivity, nightmares, and hallucinations may also be signs of mental health disorders. This is especially true if the child experiences more than one of the symptoms.

How to Seek Help

If you are concerned or troubled over your child’s behavior, you should notify your child’s primary doctor. It is also important to speak with anyone the child spends time with like friend’s parents, teachers, and relatives. The child’s doctor will likely know of a mental health professional that will be able to help you and your child. It is always important to seek help because 80% of children suffering from anxiety and 60% suffering with depression are not receiving the professional help they need.

Treatment for mental health disorders in children will consist of psychotherapy and/or medication. Psychotherapy is a method used to address concerning mental health issues by speaking with a mental health professional. With children, many counselors will incorporate games and other forms of play during the sessions. The type of medication that may be prescribed to a child will depend on the age and severity of the issues. Stimulants, antidepressants, anxiolytics, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers are some of the most common types of medications that are given to children for mental health disorders.


If your child has behaviors that are concerning to you, then do not hesitate to get the help you need. Children of all ages may experience mental health disorders and treatment can help them adjust. Look for drastic changes in behavior and speak with their doctor for more information.

Marie Miguel

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.