Skip to main content

Transforming the understanding
and treatment of mental illnesses.

Celebrating 75 Years! Learn More >>

Children and Teens

Child and Adolescent Mental Health

Why is children’s mental health important?

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.

What are warning signs of mental health conditions in children?

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.

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

  • Have frequent tantrums or are intensely irritable much of the time
  • Often seem fearful or worried
  • 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 video games)
  • 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 (for example, repeatedly checking that a door is locked) 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
  • Have periods of highly elevated energy and activity and require much less sleep than usual
  • Spend more and more time alone, and avoid social activities with friends or family
  • Diet or exercise excessively, or fear gaining weight
  • Engage in self-harm behaviors (such as 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
  • 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, find resources for families  from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 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
  • 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: 988

If you, your child, or someone you know needs immediate help, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline  at 988.

Latest news

Toddler watching clips via the SenseToKnow app while sitting in caregiver's lap
Digital Autism Screening Tool Could Enhance Early Identification

Research Highlight

A tablet-based screening tool that analyzes children’s behavior in response to specific video clips shows promise for enhancing early autism screening, according to a study supported by NIMH.

Continue reading

sad little girl rest on swing
Characterizing Childhood Irritability Across Ages and Stages

Science Update

NIMH-supported research captures expressions of irritability across developmental stages via a clinically relevant measurement tool: the MAPS Temper Loss Scale.

Continue reading

A smiling parent sits in an exam room holding her happy child and talking with a health care provider
Accelerating Science to Improve Early Autism Screening

Feature Story

Persistent, collective efforts in the research community show how making early autism screening part of routine health care can support the well-being of children and families.

Continue reading

Where can I learn more about child and adolescent mental health?

Featured health topics

Featured brochures and fact sheets

Educational resources

Watch, download, and order a variety of videos, coloring books, and hands-on quizzes and activities related to children and mental health.

Download, read, and watch educational resources

Federal resources

  • Child Mental Health : The National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus offers resources to support children’s mental health (en español ).
  • CDC Children’s Mental Health : This Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information about children’s mental health, symptoms, treatment, data & statistics, child development, and more.
  • Parents & Educators : The National Institute on Drug Abuse provides science-based information and lesson plans about drug use, health, and the developing brain.
  • Self-Harm : Self-harm refers to a person harming their own body on purpose and it tends to begin in teen or early adult years. MedlinePlus offers resources to learn more about self-harm (en español ).
  • Shareable Resources on Children and Adolescent Mental Health: Use these NIMH graphics and suggested social media messages to raise awareness about the importance of child and adolescent mental health.
  • Teen Mental Health : MedlinePlus provides resources about adolescent mental health (en español ).
  • The U.S. Department of Education provides information and resources on school accommodations and services.

Featured videos

Childhood Irritability

Learn about symptoms of irritability, why it's important to study irritability, NIMH-supported research in this area, and new treatments for severe irritability in youth.

Mental Health Minute: Stress and Anxiety in Adolescents

Got 60 seconds? Take a mental health minute to learn about stress and anxiety in adolescents.

Mental Health Minute: Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Got 60 seconds? Take a mental health minute to learn about attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or ADHD.

Health hotlines

  • 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline The Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across the United States. Call or text 988 to connect with a trained crisis counselor. Support is also available via live chat at 988lifeline.org . Para ayuda en español, llame al 988.
  • Disaster Distress Hotline : People affected by any disaster or tragedy can call this helpline, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, to receive immediate counseling. Call or text 1-800-985-5990 to connect with a trained professional from the closest crisis counseling center within the network.
  • TXT 4 HELP : Created by National Safe Place, this nationwide, 24-hour text service provides support for teens in crisis.
  • More NIH Information Lines 

What are clinical trials and why are they important?

Children are not little adults, yet they are often given medicines and treatments that were only tested in adults. Research shows 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.

Clinical trials are research studies that look at ways to prevent, detect, or treat diseases and conditions. These studies help show whether a treatment is safe and effective in people. Some people join clinical trials to help doctors and researchers learn more about a disease and improve health care. Other people, such as those with health conditions, join to try treatments that aren’t widely available.

NIMH supports clinical trials across the United States. Talk to a healthcare provider about clinical trials and whether one is right for your child. For more information, visit NIMH Clinical Trials – Information for Participants.

Last Reviewed: March 2024

Unless otherwise specified, the information on our website and in our publications is in the public domain and may be reused or copied without permission. However, you may not reuse or copy images. Please cite the National Institute of Mental Health as the source. Read our copyright policy to learn more about our guidelines for reusing NIMH content.