9 Main Mental Health Subjects in Children

Disclaimer: The below is not a mutually exclusive list of mental health issues. Symptoms, disorders, and situations require verification from a local health provider as found on the Services page.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety is a normal human emotion and a common part of life. However, when the feeling of anxiety persists it may cause fears, worries, and sleep disturbances which interfere with daily life (i.e. family, school, work).

  1. Generalized Anxiety

    A disorder that occurs when an individual is easily fatigued, irritable, has difficulty sleeping, finds concentrating difficult, and is stressed by others or daily situations.

  2. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

    A disorder characterized by obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions involve consistently engaging in activities which intensify stress. Individuals often experience unpleasant thoughts and fail at ignoring specific thoughts/actions.

    Compulsions involve repetitive behaviors such as hand washing, hoarding, arranging, checking, or mental acts (e.g., praying, counting, repeating words silently) that is done excessively to avoid distress but do not result in a reward or pleasure.

  3. Social Anxiety Disorder

    A disorder that involves intense anxiety over social situations. Individuals have noticeable and persistent fears of meeting other people. They would decline to speak in social settings and suffer from intense worry when around other people. The stress may affect work/school performance.

  4. Panic Disorders

    Refer to sudden, unjustified feelings of terror and loss of control in the absence of real danger. This is manifested via emotional (fear of dying) but mostly physical symptoms such as palpitations, shortness of breath, trembling hands, dizziness, and chills.

  5. Phobias

    Intense fear of an object or situation; when presented with the object or situation they fear is immediate, excessive, and unreasonable. The individual is likely to go out of their way to avoid the object or situation. It limits daily functioning by significantly impacting the individual’s school, work, or personal life.

Mood Disorders

Mood disorders refer to an individual exhibiting an emotional state or mood that does not match the situation or environment; it is characterized by extreme emotional changes that interfere with a person’s ability to function. They may include large changes in an emotional state and life-threatening suicidal thoughts or self-harm.

  1. Bipolar Disorder

    Bipolar disorder is defined by large intense changes in mood. The mood swings make daily life difficult for the individual and others. It involves states of depression, anger, elation, and energy.

  2. Depressive Disorder

    A disorder characterized by a persistent depressed mood. Symptoms may include depressed mood most of the time, lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities, weight/appetite changes, irritability/restlessness, difficulty concentrating, low self-esteem, poor self-worth, talking about death and/or expressing a desire to give up (i.e. wishing to be dead).

  3. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

    Similar to Depressive Disorders, however, they occur at the same time of year. Often, depressive disorders which occur during the winter months.

  4. Manic Depressive Disorder

    This is characterized by an intense period of elation, high energy, agitation, excessive talkativeness, exaggerated and unjustified sense of well-being, impaired decision making (participating in excessive functions, buying sprees, taking sexual risks)

  5. Suicidal Thoughts/Self-harm

    Serious danger is involved in this and help must be gathered immediately. Always address this as an immediate crisis. It includes the desire to hurt oneself or end one’s life. Symptoms may include:

    • Self-harm actions

      Attempts to end one’s life through engagement in dangerous actions or the expressed desire to want to hurt oneself or desire to no longer exist self-injury behavior including cutting, scarring the body, reckless behavior, skin tearing, damaging body parts

Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders are disorders that involve abnormal eating habits. They also include severe stress and unhealthy relationships with body image, body weight, and food intake.

  1. Anorexia

    Characterized by an unwillingness to eat. The symptoms include intense fear of gaining weight, preoccupied with being fat, significant low weight, avoiding situations where food consumption is expected, refusing to eat, fatigue, dizziness, fainting, and irregular sleep patterns.

  2. Bulimia

    Preoccupied with overeating and with body image. Individuals are unable to control eating excessively and tend to binge eat. As a result, they become concerned with weight gain and may fast, use laxatives, use diuretic, and induce vomiting.

  3. Binge eating disorders

    Frequent consumption of unusually large amounts of food and feeling unable to stop eating. Individuals usually eat alone or in secret, they unsuccessfully attempt to diet

  4. Pica

    The disorder of eating objects which are not edible such as paper, soap, cloth, hair, string, wool, soil, chalk, paint, metal, pebbles, paperclips, and clay.

  5. Avoidant/Restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)

    An eating or feeding disorder resulting in no interest in eating, low food intake, eating only foods of specific texture or color resulting in a significant nutritional deficiency.

Personality Disorders

The individual with the disorder has a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking, functioning, and behaving. Personality disorders prevent the individual from properly relating to others and their environment. As a result, children may struggle with family relationships, social activities, and school.

  1. Paranoid personality disorder

    People with the disorder are always on guard, believing that others are constantly trying to demean, harm, or bully them. The beliefs are generally unjustified; their tendency to blame others, distrust, underlying assumption that people are dangerous to interfere with their ability to form close or even effective relationships. They are hypersensitive to social opinion, exhibit hostility, tend to be argumentative, and develop negative stereotypes towards others.

  2. Schizoid personality disorder

    People avoid social activities and consistently shy away from interaction with others. They also have a limited range of emotional expression. They avoid close relationships, prefer being alone, have difficulty expressing emotions, or reacting in emotionally appropriate ways. To others, they may seem disconnected, distant, and unable to experience joy.

  3. Antisocial personality disorder

    A disorder in which a person consistently shows no regard for right and wrong and disregards the rights and feelings of others. They tend to threaten, antagonize, and manipulate others. They are significantly disrespectful, irritable, dishonest, and aggressive and show no guilt or remorse for their behavior.

  4. Borderline personality disorder

    This disorder negatively impacts the way a person thinks and feels about themselves and others, causing problems in daily functioning. It includes self-image issues, difficulty managing emotions and behavior, and a pattern of unstable relationships. Individuals tend to predominantly express anger and sarcasm; they struggle with fears of abandonment, rejection, and impulsivity.

  5. Histrionic personality disorder

    A disorder characterized by having an overwhelming desire to be noticed, and often behaving dramatically or inappropriately to get attention. Individuals may feel uncomfortable if they are not the center of attention, they may dress inappropriately and act over dramatically; at the same time, they tend to be impulsive, overly sensitive to criticism and have a low tolerance for frustration.

  6. Narcissistic personality disorder

    A mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. Individuals often dominate conversations, belittle others, are arrogant, exaggerate their achievements to increase self-importance, feel entitled, and require excessive admiration.

  7. Avoidant personality disorder

    A disorder characterized by the avoidance of social, school, or work activities for fear of criticism or rejection. They have a low-self-esteem and prefer to isolate themselves for fear of being socially excluded.

  8. Dependent personality disorder

    An anxious personality disorder characterized by an inability to be alone. Individuals often suffer from anxiety when not around others. They heavily rely on other people for comfort, support, advice, and confidence. They often behave submissively, rely on others for decisions, are easily hurt by conflict, are afraid of abandonment, and hate isolation.

Psychotic Disorders

Psychotic disorders are serious disorders that impair thinking, judgment, communication, emotions, and behavior. They can prevent individuals from understanding reality and behaving appropriately. They may include hallucinations and delusions. 

  1. Schizophrenia

    A serious mental disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. It may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking/ behavior which impairs daily functioning. It may include disorganized speech, abnormal posture/movements, reduced hygiene, and emotional withdrawal. Typical delusions and hallucinations are described below.

    Delusions are false beliefs that are not based in reality. Individuals may believe they are being targeted, that they have extraordinary powers, or that major events are about to occur. Hallucinations involve seeing or hearing things that do not exist. They include detecting senses which are not real

  2. Brief psychotic disorder

    The disorder occurs shortly after a trauma or major stress, such as the death of a loved one, an accident, assault, or a natural disaster. It is usually a reaction to a very disturbing event. Individuals will interpret reality differently, similar to schizophrenia.

  3. Schizoaffective disorder

    A mental health disorder that is marked by a combination of schizophrenia symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions, and mood disorder symptoms (such as depression or mania). It includes severe changes in mood along with a disconnect to reality.

  4. Psychotic features

    The features may be temporary or triggered. They are marked by an impaired relationship with reality; it includes hallucinations and delusions. People with psychosis may be a serious risk to themself or others. They may have false beliefs or impressions. It is similar to schizophrenia and requires immediate help.

Trauma Disorders

Trauma disorders include emotional and behavioral issues that result from painful/stressful experiences. They have varying effects and may be due to abuse. 

  1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders

    A disorder caused by witnessing or experiencing a horrific event. Individuals often have repeated distressing memories about an event, relive a specific experience, have disturbing dreams/nightmares, and may become emotionally distressed to reminders about an event.

  2. Acute Stress Disorders

    An intense emotional reaction to a traumatic event shortly following an experience. It includes the same symptoms as a post-traumatic stress disorder. 

  3. Adjustment Disorders

    A condition that occurs when an individual struggles to cope, adjust to, or manage a stressful situation. It often occurs during major life changes -like the loss of a loved one. The symptoms are similar to depression

  4. Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)

    A disorder where a child does not form a stable/emotional bond with their caretakers (parents). Individuals often struggle with their emotions and forming meaningful connections. They often do not show regret, avoid eye contact/touch with parents, engage in arguments often, and display affection more to strangers than their caretakers.

  5. Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED)

    A disorder in which a child may actively approach and interact with unfamiliar adults. There is little to no fear of strangers. Individuals often are overly friendly, trust all strangers, easily leave safe places, and are interested in interacting with older strangers without fear. They often find all social situations inviting and nonthreatening.

  6. Unclassified Child Disorders

    Children often struggle with other mental disorders which may result from abuse, neglect, exposure to violence, parental separation, and other family issues. Further inquiry on a child’s emotional wellbeing and mental health may be found in the Services page.

Recognizing Abuse in Children

Related to Trauma disorders, abuse is an important factor to consider in a child’s mental health. Abuse may take many forms. Based on previous studies, any child who mentions abuse is likely telling the truth and action must be taken immediately.

  1. Physical Abuse

    Physical abuse is the intentional injury to an individual. It may be striking, kicking, burning, or any other activity which causes physical impairment to a child. Children who were abused may have injuries without a good explanation, bruising, fractures, look tired/unconscious, have difficulty breathing, irritable behaviors, and may not eat properly.

  2. Sexual Abuse

    A serious offense, sexual abuse can be difficult to detect. It is when a child’s body is touched or treated inappropriately. If a child’s body is violated, serious mental trauma will result and action must be taken immediately. Individuals may display sexual knowledge which is inappropriate for their age, may describe seductive behavior, have trouble walking/sitting, make strong efforts to avoid a person, not want to change clothes or do physical activities, run away from home, and have early pregnancy or STDs.

  3. Emotional Abuse

    A nonphysical form of abuse, emotional abuse includes verbal attacks, screaming, persistent criticism, intimidation, and manipulation. It includes belittling a child and isolating, ignoring, or rejecting them. Children who were abused may withdraw from friends/activities, have intense changes in behavior, harm themselves, feel depressed, have low confidence, attempt to run away, and try to spend most of their time at school to avoid being at home.

  4. Adolescent Drug Use

    Adolescents who are involved in illicit drug use may be at risk for mental disorders or undiagnosed illnesses. Children using drugs or alcohol may have dramatic changes in appearance, friends, physical health, and emotional mood. Individuals may have drug paraphernalia, behavioral problems, poor school performance, act emotionally distanced, be hostile or irritable, have changed sleeping patterns, and changes in weight or memory.

  5. Child Neglect

    Neglect occurs when a child’s basic needs are not met. This may be reflected in a child’s hygiene, supervision, educational, and emotional needs. Individuals may have clothes that are dirty or ill-fitting, are often not cleaned properly, have untreated injuries, are often left alone, and often miss school/activities.

Developmental Disorders

Developmental disorders are often detected in school settings. However, there are several with early onsets that might first be detected by family members. The disorders may affect interactions, learning, and motor skills.

  1. Autism Spectrum Disorder

    Autism Spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder that occurs when a child has a limited ability to interact socially. Furthermore, it affects a child’s ability to express emotions and develop relationships. It is often characterized by repetitive behaviors, struggles with understanding body language, and mismatched actions. Lastly, Autism is characterized by struggles with language, where children may have difficulty speaking or using the right tone in a conversation.

  2. Asperger Disorder

    Similar to Autism, Asperger is characterized by struggles in emotional communication, social interactions, and adjusting to new environments. Asperger also includes repetitive and specific behaviors. This can range from a focus on one topic to the repeating of an action. The difference with Autism is that children with Asperger have better language skills and can communicate better verbally.

  3. Pervasive Developmental Disorders

    Pervasive developmental disorders include a range of disorders that may present within children early on in life. Overall, they include developmental struggles in speech, verbal communication, developing emotional bonds, and adapting to social situations. For more information, please contact a pediatrician or school psychologist on the Services page.

Family Supports
Finding treatment options for a child can also be difficult for the parents. Family supports are crucial during the process of supporting a child/loved one with mental illness. A family member who seeks their emotional support will often be better at helping their child. There are multiple groups available to help parents reflect on their journey in best helping their child. They can be found on the Services page.

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