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Child and Adolescent Mental Health

Overview

Teen Depression Study: Understanding Depression in Teenagers
Join a Research Study: Enrolling nationally from around the country

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 youth. 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.

Warning Signs

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 signs and symptoms that last weeks or months; and if these issues interfere with the child’s daily life, not only at home but at school and with friends, you should contact a health professional.

Your child or teen might need help if he or she:

  • Often feels anxious or worried
  • Has very frequent tantrums or is intensely irritable much of the time
  • Has frequent stomachaches or headaches with no physical explanation
  • Is in constant motion, can’t sit quietly for any length of time
  • Has trouble sleeping, including frequent nightmares
  • Loses interest in things he or she used to enjoy
  • Avoids spending time with friends
  • Has trouble doing well in school, or grades decline
  • Fears gaining weight; exercises, diets obsessively
  • Has low or no energy
  • Has spells of intense, inexhaustible activity
  • Harms herself/himself, such as cutting or burning her/his skin
  • Engages in risky, destructive behavior
  • Harms self or others
  • Smokes, drinks, or uses drugs
  • Has thoughts of suicide
  • Thinks his or her mind is controlled or out of control, hears voices

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 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

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Patient-Derived Support Cells Stunt Mouse Brain Development

Science Update

Support cells generated from patients with childhood onset schizophrenia stunted neural circuit development when grafted into developing mouse brains.

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Guidelines published for treating PANS/PANDAS

Science Update

An expert panel has published guidelines for treatment of Pediatric Acute Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (PANS) and a subset of patients diagnosed with PAN Disorder Associated with Streptococcal Infection (PANDAS).

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Connections Strengthen Within Specialized Networks as Brain’s Executive Function Matures

Science Update

As we grow up, our brain’s specialized networks become more structurally segregated, contributing to improved executive functioning. These densely interconnected “modules” process information for key functions that underlie development of mental control and self-regulation.

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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

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: April 2017

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.