What You Need To Know About Children's Mental Health

May is National Mental Health Month, which means that many relevant organizations focus on increasing awareness of various important facets of mental health through media, events, services, etc. The purpose of this article is to embrace National Mental Health Month by attempting to increase awareness specifically regarding mental health as it relates to children.

Potential issues with mental health should be monitored in children just as physical health is. Mental health-related problems can impact children starting very young. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in six children aged two to eight receive a mental health diagnosis. Early detection of these problems is very important. For many mental health problems, early detection can lead to earlier provision of services, which can impact the course and prognosis of many mental health disorders.  

According to the CDC, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, behavioral disorders, anxiety, and depression are the most common diagnoses among children and adolescents. Here is a little information about each:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

    • According to the CDC, approximately 9.4% (6.1 million) of children aged 2-17 have received a diagnosis of ADHD. A diagnosis of ADHD indicates a child is experiencing inattention, hyperactivity/impulsivity, or both, to the extent that it interferes with functioning. For children with ADHD, this impairment often impacts academic performance; however, it can also impair other areas, such as social functioning. Children who experience these symptoms in settings that do not allow for them, such as in the classroom setting, may be perceived as having behavioral problems, although behavioral disorders can also be comorbid with ADHD. ADHD symptoms can be managed with medication monitored by a primary care doctor or child psychiatrist, and therapy can help children learn strategies for managing their symptoms. Additionally, parents and relevant school officials can work together to provide appropriate accommodations and outlets for expression of symptoms so that the child’s learning is not impaired, and the ADHD symptoms are not disruptive in the classroom.
  • Behavioral disorders

    • According to the CDC, approximately 7.4% (4.5 million) of children aged 3-17 have received behavioral disorder diagnoses. There are several behavioral disorders that may fall into this category, such as oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, etc. While these diagnoses differ in severity and types of behaviors, what they share is disruptive behavior exhibited from a child or adolescent that is impairing functioning in some areas, such as school, in social relationships, etc. There are specific evidence-based treatments that can be sought for these concerns, many of which include working with the child as well as working with the caregivers on parenting skills to reduce disruptive behavior.
  • Anxiety

    • According to the CDC, approximately 7.1% (4.4 million) of children aged 3-17 have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. There are several types of anxiety disorders that differ in severity and target of anxiety, for example, whether the child is generally nervous about many things, or the anxiety is limited to social or performance concerns, separation anxiety, etc. There are many versions of evidence-based treatments for anxiety that can be sought from a variety of mental health providers. Physicians or child psychiatrists can prescribe medications for anxiety that is severe or difficult to treat.
  • Depression

    • According to the CDC, approximately 3.2% (1.9 million) of children aged 3-17 have been diagnosed with depression. Some sources have indicated that rates of depression in children and adolescents is rising. Depression in children has similar symptoms as may be expected in adults, such as sadness and crying, hopelessness and helplessness, disturbances in weight, sleep, concentration, etc.; however, children and adolescents are more likely than adults to display irritability than sadness. Similar to anxiety, depression is amenable to mental health treatment with a range of modalities and mental health providers than can give such treatment. Again, physicians or child psychiatrists can prescribe medications for depression that is severe or difficult to treat.

Here are some other important facts to consider in raising awareness for children’s mental health:

  • Comorbidity: Being diagnosed with one mental health disorder often makes being diagnosed with a second mental health disorder more likely. According to the CDC, this fact is truest among children diagnosed with depression. The CDC reported that among children diagnosed with depression, 3 in 4 of those children were also diagnosed with anxiety, and 1 in 2 children diagnosed with depression were also diagnosed with behavioral problems.
  • Treatment: Mental health treatments are designed to help all four of these symptom areas. Despite this, many children with these issues are not receiving treatment that could help them and their families manage these symptoms. According to the CDC, approximately 8 in 10 children with depression receive treatment, 6 in 10 children with anxiety receive treatment, and only 5 in 10 children with behavioral disorders receive treatment.

Thanks for reading! If your child experiences these symptoms or other mental health symptoms, talk to your pediatrician or mental health provider about what treatments might be available and appropriate for your child. The Arkansas Families First team in Conway and North Little Rock is here to help your family! Get in touch to find out more about available services.