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Transforming the understanding
and treatment of mental illnesses.

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The National Institute of Mental Health archives materials that are over 4 years old and no longer being updated. The content on this page is provided for historical reference purposes only and may not reflect current knowledge or information.

Discover NIMH: Diagnosis and Treatment in Children and Adolescents



>> JOSH GORDON: Diagnosis should direct the course of treatment, but it can be challenging to diagnose mental disorders in children and adolescents. At NIMH we actively support research focused on the relationship between behavioral and emotional changes and brain function. For example, we're looking at the signs and symptoms of stress and anxiety in children and adolescents.

>> DANIEL PINE: We've learned a few things from our research. One particularly important lesson that we've learned is that problems that manifest chronically all throughout an individual's life often start in childhood. And this means that identifying mental health problems is important, not only for what it tells us about children, but also for what it tells us about adolescents and adults. Some children with mental health problems do fine, others have chronic problems and it looks like by understanding how the brain is functioning, we might get clues and insights into some of those differences. And one of the things that we've learned, particularly for fears and anxiety, that problems the children are having manifest incredibly rapidly, on the order of milliseconds. So we're developing novel video games that are both fun and engaging, but also helpful in that we think that they're beginning to change the way children think when they're processing dangerous stimuli.

>> JOSH GORDON: NIMH is also studying diagnosis and treatment approaches for severe irritability in children. A major focus of this research is how mood, behavior, and brain development change over time.

>> ELLEN LIEBENLUFT: We study children with irritability by studying their brains and how they respond to frustration. We use brain scanning to do that and then we use that knowledge to design new treatments, particularly new psychotherapies and new brain training exercises that will help decrease their irritability. There are two new treatments that we're testing for irritability. The first is a brain training computer game that the kids play. Irritable kids tend to see ambiguous faces as angry. We train them to see those faces as happy and then see whether that decreases their irritability. The second treatment is a cognitive behavioral therapy. What we do is, we expose these irritable children to situations which make them feel frustrated and angry, and we teach them techniques to deal with that frustration, and we test whether that helps them to be less irritable. What's been surprising about our work with irritability is how common it is and how little is known about it, particularly in terms of what's happening in the brains of children with irritability. And if we can understand that, then I'm optimistic we'll be able to do a better job of helping them.

>> JOSH GORDON: Research is ongoing, but there are current treatments that can help children and their families. If you are a child or a teen, talk to your parents, school counselor, or healthcare provider. If you are a parent and need help starting a conversation with your child or teen about mental health, visit our website. If you are unsure where to go for help, your pediatrician or family doctor can be a good place to start.