Child and Adolescent Mental Health
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.
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).
- Recruitment Begins for Landmark Study of Adolescent Brain Development
• Press Release
The study will follow the biological and behavioral development of more than 10,000 children through adolescence into early adulthood.
- Game Corrects Children’s Misreading of Emotional Faces to Tame Irritability
• Science Update
A computer game that changes a tendency to misread ambiguous faces as angry is showing promise as a potential treatment for irritability in children
- Students Explore the Brain with NIH Scientists
• Press Release
Students explore the brain with NIH scientists in celebration of Brain Awareness Week (March 14-18, 2016).
Health Topics and Resources
Featured Health Topics
Featured Brochures and Factsheets
- Mental health surveillance among children – United States, 2005—2011 : This CDC report describes the number of U.S. children aged 3–17 years who have specific mental disorders used data collected from a variety of data sources between the years 2005-2011.
- For Educators: MentalHealth.gov: Educators are often the first to notice mental health problems. Here are some ways you can help students and their families
- For Friends and Family: Mentalhealth.gov : Anyone can experience mental health problems. Friends and family can make all the difference in a person’s recovery process .
- Self-harm: Medline Plus: Self-harm refers to a person's harming their own body on purpose. It tends to begin in teen or early adult years. Learn more at on the Medline Plus Self-Harm webpage.
- NIDA for Teens website is a project of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institutes of Health (NIH). Created for middle and high school students and their teachers, this website provides accurate and timely information for use in and out of the classroom.
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.
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.
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.
- 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 .
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
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