Childhood Mental Health
The future of our country depends on the mental health and strength of our young people. However, many children have mental health problems that interfere with normal development and functioning. In the U.S., 1 in 10 children and adolescents suffer from mental illness severe enough to cause some level of impairment. However, in any given year, it is estimated that fewer than 1 in 5 of these children receives needed treatment.The mental health problems affecting children and adolescents include the following:


Large-scale research studies have reported that up to 3 percent of children and up to 8 percent of adolescents in the U.S. suffer from depression, a serious mental disorder that adversely affects mood, energy, interest, sleep, appetite, and overall functioning. In contrast to normal emotional experiences of sadness or passing mood states, the symptoms of depression are extreme and persistent and can interfere significantly with the ability to function at home or at school. There is evidence that depression emerging early in life often recurs and continues into adulthood, and that early onset depression may predict more severe illness in adult life. Diagnosing and treating children and adolescents with depression is critical in preventing impairment in academic, social, emotional, and behavioral functioning and to allow children to live up to their full potential. .

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problems that occur in children and adolescents. According to one large-scale study of 9 to 17 year olds, entitled Methods for the Epidemiology of Child and Adolescent Mental Disorders (MECA), as many as 13 percent of young people had an anxiety disorder in a year.


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most commonly diagnosed psychiatric disorder of childhood, estimated to affect 3 to 5 percent of school-aged children. Research shows that ADHD tends to run in families. Its core symptoms include developmentally inappropriate levels of attention, concentration, activity, distractibility, and impulsivity. Children with ADHD usually have impaired functioning in peer relationships and multiple settings including home and school. ADHD has also been shown to have long-term adverse effects on academic performance, vocational success, and social-emotional development.

In the U.S., eating disorders are most common among adolescent and young women. In addition to causing various physical health problems, eating disorders are associated with illnesses such as depression, substance abuse, and anxiety disorders. Among adolescent and young adult women in the U.S., it is estimated that between 0.5 and 1.0 percent suffer from anorexia nervosa, 1 to 3 percent have bulimia nervosa, and 0.7 to 4 percent experience binge-eating disorder. There are limited data concerning the prevalence in males.

Manic Depressive Illness

Manic-depressive illness causes extreme shifts in mood, energy, and functioning. Overly energized, disruptive, and reckless periods alternate with periods of sadness, withdrawal, hopelessness, and other depressive symptoms. Unlike normal mood states of happiness and sadness, symptoms of manic-depressive illness can interfere with school performance, family relationships, peer interactions, and other everyday activities. Although manic-depressive illness typically emerges in late adolescence or early adulthood, there is increasing evidence that the disorder also can begin in childhood. According to one study, one percent of adolescents ages 14-18 were found to have met criteria for manic-depressive illness or cyclothymia, a milder form of the illness, in their lifetime.

Autism and Other Pervasive Developmental Disorders

Autism and other pervasive developmental disorders are brain disorders that occurs in as many as 2 in 1,000 Americans. They typically affect the ability to communicate, form relationships with others, and respond appropriately to the outside world. The signs of autism usually develop by 3 years of age. The symptoms and deficits associated with autism may vary among people with the disorder. While some individuals with autism function at a relatively high level, with speech and intelligence intact, others are developmentally delayed, mute, or have serious language difficulty.


Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder that affects about 1 percent of the population during their lifetime. Symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, disordered thinking, and social withdrawal. Schizophrenia appears to be extremely rare in children; more typically, the illness emerges in late adolescence or early adulthood. However, research studies are revealing that various cognitive and social impairments may be evident early in children who later develop schizophrenia. These and other findings may lead to the development of preventive interventions for children.

Tourette's Syndrome

Tourette's Syndrome (TS) is characterized by repeated, involuntary movements and uncontrollable vocal sounds, known as tics. Affecting approximately 100,000 Americans in its full-blown form, TS generally emerges during childhood or early adolescence.