Top 5 Common Mental Health Disorders in Children

Common mental health disorders in children include ADHD, anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorder, and conduct disorder.
Top 5 Common Mental Health Disorders in Children

Mental health disorders come in different shapes and sizes, and they can affect anyone, including children. In fact, mental health disorders are increasingly becoming a common issue among children, affecting their emotional and social development.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 6 children aged 2-8 years has a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder. In this article, we will delve into the top 5 common mental health disorders in children, their symptoms, and how to seek help.

1. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common mental health disorder in children that can continue into adulthood. It is characterized by inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Here are some key facts about ADHD:

ADHD Statistics in Children

  • Approximately 9.4% of children aged 2-17 years have been diagnosed with ADHD, according to the CDC.
  • Boys are more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD.
  • ADHD affects people of all races and ethnicities.

Symptoms and Signs of ADHD in Children

The symptoms of ADHD can vary depending on the type of ADHD a person has. There are three main types of ADHD:

  1. Inattentive type
  2. Hyperactive-impulsive type
  3. Combined type

Here are some common symptoms and signs associated with each type:

Inattentive Type:

  • Difficulty paying attention to details or following instructions
  • Making careless mistakes in schoolwork or other activities
  • Having trouble staying organized or completing tasks
  • Being forgetful or easily distracted

Hyperactive-Impulsive Type:

  • Fidgeting or squirming in one's seat
  • Talking excessively or interrupting others
  • Having difficulty waiting one's turn
  • Acting without thinking about the consequences

Combined Type:

  • Exhibiting symptoms of both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive types

It's important to note that not everyone with ADHD will exhibit all of these symptoms, and that symptoms can change over time. If you suspect that you or your child may have ADHD, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

Read about: Symptoms of ADHD: Inattention and Hyperactivity-Impulsivity Explained

2. Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health disorders characterized by excessive fear, worry, and nervousness. They can affect people of all ages, including children. Here are some key facts about anxiety disorders:

Anxiety Disorders Statistics in Children

  • Approximately 7.1% of children aged 3-17 years have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders, according to the CDC.
  • Girls are more likely than boys to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders.
  • Anxiety disorders can co-occur with other mental health disorders, such as depression.

Symptoms and Signs of Anxiety Disorders in Children

The symptoms of anxiety disorders can vary depending on the type of anxiety disorder a person has. Here are some common symptoms and signs associated with anxiety disorders:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD):

  • Excessive worry or fear about everyday situations
  • Difficulty controlling worries or feelings of nervousness
  • Restlessness or feeling on edge
  • Muscle tension or headaches

Social Anxiety Disorder:

  • Fear or avoidance of social situations
  • Worries about being judged or humiliated in front of others
  • Physical symptoms such as blushing or sweating

Panic Disorder:

  • Sudden and unexpected panic attacks
  • Fear of having future panic attacks
  • Physical symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath

Specific Phobias:

  • Intense fear or avoidance of specific objects or situations (e.g. heights, spiders)
  • Physical symptoms such as trembling or sweating

It's important to note that not everyone with an anxiety disorder will exhibit all of these symptoms, and that symptoms can change over time. If you suspect that you or your child may have an anxiety disorder, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

3. Depression

Free photo portrait of sad girl with parents arguing behind

Depression is a mood disorder that can affect a child's emotions, behavior, and physical health. It is characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness that persist over time. Here are some key facts about depression:

Depression Statistics in Children

  • Approximately 3.2% of children aged 3-17 years have been diagnosed with depression, according to the CDC.
  • Girls are more likely than boys to be diagnosed with depression.
  • Depression can co-occur with other mental health disorders, such as anxiety.

Symptoms and Signs of Depression in Children

The symptoms of depression can vary depending on the age of the child and the severity of the depression. Here are some common symptoms and signs associated with depression:

Preschool Children:

  • Irritability or anger
  • Refusal to play or engage in activities
  • Physical symptoms such as stomachaches or headaches
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns

School-Age Children:

  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions

Adolescents:

  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Social isolation or withdrawal

It's important to note that not everyone with depression will exhibit all of these symptoms, and that symptoms can change over time. If you suspect that you or your child may have depression, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

4. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a child's ability to communicate, socialize, and interact with others. It is characterized by a range of symptoms that can vary in severity. Here are some key facts about ASD:

Autism Spectrum Disorder Statistics in Children

  • Approximately 1 in 54 children have been diagnosed with ASD, according to the CDC.
  • Boys are more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ASD.
  • The prevalence of ASD has increased in recent years.

Symptoms and Signs of ASD in Children

The symptoms of ASD can vary widely depending on the individual child and the severity of the disorder. Here are some common symptoms and signs associated with ASD:

Social Communication Challenges:

  • Difficulty with social cues such as eye contact, gestures, and facial expressions
  • Delayed speech or language development
  • Difficulty initiating or maintaining conversations
  • Lack of interest in sharing experiences with others

Restricted Interests and Repetitive Behaviors:

  • Preoccupation with specific topics or objects
  • Repetitive movements such as hand-flapping or rocking
  • Need for routine or sameness
  • Sensory sensitivities to sounds, textures, or smells

It's important to note that not everyone with ASD will exhibit all of these symptoms, and that symptoms can change over time. If you suspect that your child may have ASD, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Early intervention can make a big difference in improving outcomes for children with ASD.

5. Conduct Disorder

Conduct disorder is a mental health disorder characterized by aggressive behavior, defiance, and disregard for others' rights. It is typically diagnosed in childhood or adolescence and can have serious implications for a child's long-term social and emotional development. Here are some key facts about conduct disorder:

Conduct Disorder Statistics in Children

  • Approximately 4% of children aged 3-17 years have been diagnosed with conduct disorder, according to the CDC.
  • Boys are more likely than girls to be diagnosed with conduct disorder.
  • Children with conduct disorder are at increased risk for academic failure, substance abuse, and involvement in the criminal justice system.

Symptoms and Signs of Conduct Disorder in Children

The symptoms of conduct disorder can vary depending on the individual child and the severity of the disorder. Here are some common symptoms and signs associated with conduct disorder:

Aggressive Behavior:

  • Bullying or threatening others
  • Initiating physical fights
  • Cruelty to animals or people
  • Using weapons to harm others

Defiance and Disregard for Others' Rights:

  • Truancy or running away from home
  • Breaking rules or laws
  • Lying or stealing
  • Destruction of property

Emotional and Behavioral Control Issues:

  • Impulsivity or recklessness
  • Difficulty controlling anger or frustration
  • Lack of remorse for wrongdoing
  • Blaming others for their problems

It's important to note that not everyone with conduct disorder will exhibit all of these symptoms, and that symptoms can change over time. If you suspect that your child may have conduct disorder, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Early intervention can help prevent the negative outcomes associated with this disorder.

Related: Child Mental Disorders List: 10 Types of Mental Disorders

Causes and Risk Factors of Mental Health Disorders in Children

While the exact causes of mental health disorders in children are not fully understood, research has identified several risk factors that may increase a child's likelihood of developing a disorder. Here are some potential causes and risk factors associated with each of the five most common mental health disorders in children:

ADHD

  • Genetics: ADHD tends to run in families, suggesting a genetic component.
  • Brain development: Studies have shown that certain areas of the brain may develop differently in children with ADHD.
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to toxins such as lead or maternal smoking during pregnancy may increase the risk of developing ADHD.

Anxiety Disorders

  • Genetics: Anxiety disorders can run in families, indicating a genetic component.
  • Trauma or stress: Children who experience traumatic events or chronic stressors may be at increased risk for anxiety disorders.
  • Overprotective parenting: Some studies suggest that overprotective parenting styles may contribute to the development of anxiety disorders.

Depression

  • Genetics: Depression can run in families, indicating a genetic component.
  • Imbalanced neurotransmitters: Neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine play a role in regulating mood, and imbalances in these chemicals may contribute to depression.
  • Life events: Traumatic life events such as loss or abuse can trigger depression.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Genetics: ASD has been linked to several genetic mutations and variations.
  • Brain development: Studies have shown that brain development may differ in individuals with ASD.
  • Environmental factors: Prenatal exposure to toxins such as mercury or air pollution has been associated with an increased risk of developing ASD.

Conduct Disorder

  • Genetics: Conduct disorder can run in families, indicating a genetic component.
  • Trauma or neglect: Children who experience trauma or neglect may be at increased risk for conduct disorder.
  • Parenting practices: Inconsistent discipline, harsh punishment, and lack of parental involvement have been linked to conduct disorder.

It's important to note that these risk factors do not guarantee the development of a mental health disorder, and that many children with these risk factors will not develop a disorder. If you are concerned about your child's mental health, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

Differentiating Between Typical Child Behavior and Mental Health Disorders

Free photo woman trying to work on laptop from home while her children are running around

It can be challenging for parents and caregivers to differentiate between typical child behavior and symptoms of a mental health disorder. Here are some tips to help you determine when your child's behavior may warrant further evaluation:

Duration and Intensity:

  • Consider the duration and intensity of your child's behavior. Is it a brief, one-time occurrence, or is it ongoing? Is it mild or severe?
  • Mental health disorders are characterized by persistent and intense symptoms that interfere with daily life.

Impact on Functioning:

  • Evaluate how your child's behavior is impacting their functioning at home, school, or in social situations.
  • Mental health disorders can impair a child's ability to learn, make friends, or participate in activities they enjoy.

Developmental Expectations:

  • Consider whether your child's behavior is developmentally appropriate.
  • Mental health disorders often involve behaviors that are not typical for a child's age or stage of development.

Co-Occurring Symptoms:

  • Look for other symptoms that may be present alongside the behavior in question.
  • Mental health disorders often involve multiple symptoms occurring together.

If you have concerns about your child's behavior, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. With early intervention and appropriate treatment, children with mental health disorders can lead happy, healthy lives.

Conclusion

Mental health disorders are a significant concern for children and their families. The five most common mental health disorders in children, including ADHD, anxiety disorders, depression, autism spectrum disorder, and conduct disorder, can have long-term effects on a child's emotional and social development. While the exact causes of these disorders are not fully understood, research has identified several risk factors that may increase a child's likelihood of developing a disorder.

It's important for parents and caregivers to be aware of the signs and symptoms of these disorders and to seek professional help if they suspect that their child may be struggling with their mental health. Early intervention can make a big difference in improving outcomes for children with mental health disorders.

Sources

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.).
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Children's Mental Health: Data and Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/symptoms.html

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