It’s easy to know your child needs help dealing with a fever or a broken bone, but mental health problems can be harder to identify. Children of all ages, even as young infants, can experience mental health problems. A difficult of parenting is knowing the kinds of behaviors and moods that are usual for the stage of development your child is in and when your child has gone beyond the norm and needs help.

1 in 5 children and adolescents may have a mental health problem at any given time. It is important to remember that a child’s mental health is just as important as his/her physical health.

Almost 2/3’s of all young people with mental health problems are not getting the help they need. Without help, these problems can lead to school failure, substance use and family trouble. Exposure to violence, death, abuse or neglect may lead to mental health problems in children.

A child’s age, stage of development and ability to communicate can make it difficult to distinguish between a mental health problem and natural development.

Some of these illnesses, such as anxiety disorders, eating disorders, mood disorders and schizophrenia, can occur in adults as well as children. Others, such as behavior and development disorders, elimination disorders, and learning and communication disorders, begin in childhood only, although they can continue into adulthood.

What are the symptoms of mental illness in children and/or adolescents?

Symptoms vary depending on the type of mental condition, but general symptoms include:

  • Does poorly in school
  • Gets into fights constantly
  • Worries all the time
  • Maintains patterns of repetitive activity, and these actions interfere with school attendance, sleep or appetite
  • Frequently worries about death or talks about suicide
  • Never seems to laugh or smile
  • Has trouble making friends because of aggressive or frightening behavior
  • Avoids people; wants to be alone all the time
  • Loses interest in friends or things once loved
  • Can’t stay with one activity as long as other children
  • Doesn’t seem to listen to instructions
  • Acts without thinking
  • Uses drugs or alcohol
  • Displays babyish behavior which should have been outgrown long ago, like clinging, wetting or soiling
  • Displays sexual behavior that is more than normal curiosity
  • Repeatedly plays with fire
  • Is cruel to animals
  • Hears voices or sees things that aren’t there

For signs and symptoms related to specific mental health conditions, please refer to our Family Resource Kit Fact Sheets or Educator Resource Kit Fact Sheets.

If you think your child needs help

If you are worried about your child’s emotions or behaviors, you can start by talking to friends, family members, your spiritual counselor, your child’s school counselor, or your child’s pediatrician/family physician about your concerns.
Your child’s pediatrician can talk with you about your concerns, and can make referrals for treatment.
Your insurance company can provide you with a list of mental health professionals within your healthcare network.

Take a look at our First Steps in Seeking Help Fact Sheet.

For additional information on specific mental health conditions or supports, please go to our Resources Page for Educators, or Teens/Young Adults

Other helpful resources include

Dial 2-1-1, press 1
2-1-1 Maryland is partnership of four agencies working together to provide simple access to health and human services information. 2-1-1 is an easy to remember telephone number that connects people with important community services. Our specially trained call specialists answer calls 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Maryland Crisis Hotline 800-422-0009
24/hr support, guidance and connection to resources.

Maryland Association of Behavioral Health Authorities

Maryland Insurance Administration 800-492-6116
Public Mental Health System for Medicaid recipients and for individuals who are active participants in the Pharmacy Assistance Program. Individuals who need services and are not sure that they qualify should contact their local core service agency (local mental health agency) or 800-888-1965 or TTY 800-735-2258.

Attorney General’s Office Health Advocacy Unit 877-261-8807

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) 866-615-6464
You can also visit www.nimh.nih.gov for research on prevention and treatment of mental illness.

Maryland’s Network of Care 
This website provides comprehensive county specific information about mental health services and other resources for families in multiply languages and formats. (Be sure to select your county for local information!)