It’s easy to know your child needs help dealing with a fever or a broken bone, but mental health conditions can be harder to identify. Children of all ages, even as young infants, can experience mental health conditions. A difficult part 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 (20%) and adolescents may have a mental health condition at any given time. It is important to remember that a child’s mental health is just as important as their physical health.
Almost 2/3's of all young people with mental health conditions are not getting the help they need. Without support, children may experience school failure, substance use and family trouble.
A child’s age, stage of development and ability to communicate can make it difficult to distinguish between a mental health condition 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.
- 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
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.
If you or a loved one needs assistance or is thinking of suicide, please get help immediately. These resources below offer immediate help.
MARYLAND CRISIS HOTLINE
Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
2-1-1 Maryland 211 Maryland is the state’s most comprehensive health and human services resource database, connecting Marylanders to essential resources by phone, text, chat and web. English and Spanish speaking resources are available 24/7/365, with translation in 150+ languages. Call 2-1-1 or search for resources, including behavioral health resources. Learn more about How Parents and Caregivers Can Support Teen Mental Health
We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals in the United States.