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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 adolescence. 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 behavioral signs and symptoms that last weeks or months, and if these issues interfere with the child’s daily life at home and at school, or with friends, you should contact a health professional.

Young children may benefit from an evaluation and treatment if they:

  • Have frequent tantrums or are intensely irritable much of the time
  • Often talk about fears or worries
  • Complain about frequent stomachaches or headaches with no known medical cause
  • Are in constant motion and cannot sit quietly (except when they are watching videos or playing videogames)
  • Sleep too much or too little, have frequent nightmares, or seem sleepy during the day
  • Are not interested in playing with other children or have difficulty making friends
  • Struggle academically or have experienced a recent decline in grades
  • Repeat actions or check things many times out of fear that something bad may happen.

Older children and adolescents may benefit from an evaluation if they:

  • Have lost interest in things that they used to enjoy
  • Have low energy
  • Sleep too much or too little, or seem sleepy throughout the day
  • Are spending more and more time alone, and avoid social activities with friends or family
  • Fear gaining weight, or diet or exercise excessively
  • Engage in self-harm behaviors (e.g., cutting or burning their skin)
  • Smoke, drink alcohol, or use drugs
  • Engage in risky or destructive behavior alone or with friends
  • Have thoughts of suicide
  • Have periods of highly elevated energy and activity, and require much less sleep than usual
  • Say that they think someone is trying to control their mind or that they hear things that other people cannot hear.

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 someone you know needs immediate help, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Latest News

photo of teen girl propped on elbows, looking at a phone
Release of “13 Reasons Why” Associated with Increase in Youth Suicide Rates

Press Release

A study conducted by researchers at several universities, hospitals, and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that the Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” was associated with a 28.9% increase in suicide rates among U.S. youth ages 10-17 in the month (April 2017) following the shows release, after accounting for ongoing trends in suicide rates.

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Speaking Up About Mental Health essay contest poster
Nationwide Essay Contest Challenges High Schoolers to be Frank About Mental Health

Press Release

The National Institutes of Health invites students ages 16 to 18 years old to participate in the “Speaking Up About Mental Health!” essay contest to explore ways to address the stigma and social barriers that adolescents from racial and ethnic minority populations may face when seeking mental health treatment.

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Image showing differences in fMRI activation between children with and without anhedonia during reward anticipation.
NIH Study Reveals Differences in Brain Activity in Children with Anhedonia

Press Release

Researchers have identified changes in brain connectivity and brain activity during rest and reward anticipation in children with anhedonia, a condition where people lose interest and pleasure in activities they used to enjoy.

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Health Topics and Resources

Featured Health Topics

Featured Brochures and Factsheets

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

Federal Resources

Featured Videos

Discover NIMH: Diagnosis and Treatment in Children and Adolescents video preview image

Discover NIMH: Diagnosis and Treatment in Children and Adolescents

It can be challenging to diagnose mental disorders in children and adolescents. NIMH actively supports research focused on the relationship between behavioral and emotional changes and the brain.

Irritability in Children – Dr. Ellen Leibenluft video preview image

Irritability in Children – Dr. Ellen Leibenluft

Dr. Ellen Leibenluft of the Emotion and Development Branch in NIMH’s Intramural Research Program discusses research on irritability in children.

Teen Depression Study video preview image

Teen Depression Study

NIMH conducts research studies to understand the causes of depression, the teen brain, and to evaluate new treatments.

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
  • More NIH Information Lines

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 NIMH, visit Join a Study: Children. To find a clinical trial near you, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.

Last Revised: May 2019

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.