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Child and Adolescent Mental Health

Overview

brain scan video screenshot

Did you know? Studies show that the brain continues to mature well into the 20s.

Mental health conditions and disorders don't only affect adults. Children and teens can experience mental health problems too. In fact, research has now shown that most mental disorders follow a developmental course that typically starts early in life. This is true not only of conditions such as autism and ADHD, which are well known for having onset in childhood, but also for mood, anxiety, and psychotic disorders. So, many people who suffer from depression, social phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia showed signs before they were 24 years old.

Like adults, children and teens can sometimes experience intense emotions as they get older or go through stressful or traumatic events in their lives. For example, it is common for children to feel anxious about school or friendships, or for teens to have short periods of depression after a death in the family.

Mental disorders are different. They can cause ongoing, severe symptoms that affect how a child feels, thinks, acts, and handles daily activities, such as going to school, sleeping, or eating. It is important to know the signs and seek help if needed.

Warning Signs

Children and teens can develop the same mental health disorders and conditions as adults, but their symptoms may be different or hard to identify. Your child or teen might need help if he or she:

  • Often feels very angry or very worried
  • Can’t sleep or eat
  • Is unable to enjoy pleasurable activities any more
  • Isolates her/himself and avoids social interactions
  • Feels grief for a long time after a loss or death
  • Uses alcohol or drugs
  • Exercises, diets and/or binge-eats obsessively
  • Hurts other people or destroys property
  • Has low or no energy
  • Smokes, drinks, or use drugs
  • Feels like he or she can’t control own  emotions
  • Has thoughts of suicide
  • Harms her/himself, such as cutting or burning her/his skin
  • Thinks his or her mind is controlled or out of control
  • Hears voices

Mental health problems 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 family doctor or visit NIMH’s Help for Mental Illness 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 your child is thinking about harming yourself get help immediately . You can call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Line  at 1.800.273.TALK (8255).

Latest News

Recruitment Begins for Landmark Study of Adolescent Brain Development

Press Release

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The study will follow the biological and behavioral development of more than 10,000 children through adolescence into early adulthood.

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Game Corrects Children’s Misreading of Emotional Faces to Tame Irritability

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Irritability in children

A computer game that changes a tendency to misread ambiguous faces as angry is showing promise as a potential treatment for irritability in children

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Students Explore the Brain with NIH Scientists

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Students explore the brain with NIH scientists in celebration of Brain Awareness Week (March 14-18, 2016).

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Health Topics and Resources

Featured Health Topics

Featured Brochures and Factsheets

Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens publication cover Teen Depression publication cover Autism Spectrum Disorder publication cover

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Federal Resources

Featured Videos

Bullying Exerts Psychiatric Effects Into Adulthood video preview image

Bullying Exerts Psychiatric Effects Into Adulthood 

Bullies and victims alike are at risk for psychiatric problems such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide when they become adults, reported a study partially funded by the NIMH.

Development of the Young Brain video preview image

Development of the Young Brain 

For more than twenty years, neuroscientist Dr. Jay Giedd has studied the development of the adolescent brain. Decades of imaging work have led to remarkable insight and a more than a few surprises.

National Database for Autism Research video preview image

National Database for Autism Research 

Researchers, advocates, and parents of children with autism talk about the importance of taking part in autism research and contributing to the National Database for Autism Research.

Health Hotlines

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  is a 24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.
  • Disaster Distress Hotline : People affected by any disaster or tragedy can call the Disaster Distress Helpline, sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, to receive immediate counseling. Calling 1-800-985-5990 will connect you to a trained professional from the closest crisis counseling center within the network.
  • TXT 4 HELP Interactive : National Safe Place has created TXT 4 HELP Interactive, which allows youth to text live with a mental health professional.
  • Crisis Text Line : help is available 24 hours a day throughout the US by texting START to 741741

Live Chats with Experts

Join NIMH as we host or participate in live online chats that cover a variety of mental health topics! An expert in scientific and health issues will be available to answer your questions. Dates, times, topics, and hashtags for our chats will be announced on the NIMH homepage and through Twitter  and Facebook .

Clinical Trials

Children are not little adults, yet they are often given medicines and treatments that were only tested in adults. There is a lot of evidence that children’s developing brains and bodies can respond to medicines and treatments differently than how adults respond. The way to get the best treatments for children is through research designed specifically for them.

Should your child participate in a clinical study?

Parents and caregivers may have many questions when they are considering enrolling a child in a clinical study, and that children and adolescents also want to know what they will go through. NIMH is committed to ensuring that families trying to decide whether to enroll their child in a clinical study get all the information they need to feel comfortable and make informed decisions. The safety of children remains the utmost priority for all NIMH and NIH research studies.

For more information, visit NIH Clinical Trials and You: For Parents and Children . To find studies for children and teens being conducted at the NIMH, visit Join a Study: Children. To find a clinical trial near you, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov .

Last Revised: May 2016

Unless otherwise specified, NIMH information and publications are in the public domain and available for use free of charge. Citation of the NIMH is appreciated. Please see our Citing NIMH Information and Publications page for more information.