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Child & Adolescent Mental Health

Mental health is an important part of overall health for children as well as adults. For many adults who have mental disorders, symptoms were present—but often not recognized or addressed—in childhood and adolescence. For a young person with symptoms of a mental disorder, the earlier treatment is started, the more effective it can be. Early treatment can help prevent more severe, lasting problems as a child grows up.

Warning Signs


It can be tough to tell if troubling behavior in a child is just part of growing up or a problem that should be discussed with a health professional. But if there are behavioral signs and symptoms that last weeks or months, and if these issues interfere with the child’s daily life at home and at school, or with friends, you should contact a health professional.


Young children may benefit from an evaluation and treatment if they:

  • Have frequent tantrums or are intensely irritable much of the time

  • Often talk about fears or worries

  • Complain about frequent stomachaches or headaches with no known medical cause

  • Are in constant motion and cannot sit quietly (except when they are watching videos or playing video games)

  • Sleep too much or too little, have frequent nightmares, or seem sleepy during the day

  • Are not interested in playing with other children or have difficulty making friends

  • Struggle academically or have experienced a recent decline in grades

  • Repeat actions or check things many times out of fear that something bad may happen.

Older children and adolescents may benefit from an evaluation if they:

  • Have lost interest in things that they used to enjoy

  • Have low energy

  • Sleep too much or too little, or seem sleepy throughout the day

  • Are spending more and more time alone, and avoid social activities with friends or family

  • Fear gaining weight, or diet or exercise excessively

  • Engage in self-harm behaviors (e.g., cutting or burning their skin)

  • Smoke, drink alcohol, or use drugs

  • Engage in risky or destructive behavior alone or with friends

  • Have thoughts of suicide

  • Have periods of highly elevated energy and activity, and require much less sleep than usual

  • Say that they think someone is trying to control their mind or that they hear things that other people cannot hear.


Mental illnesses can be treated. If you are a child or teen, talk to your parents, school counselor, or health care provider. If you are a parent and need help starting a conversation with your child or teen about mental health, visit If you are unsure where to go for help, ask your pediatrician or family doctor or visit our Get Help page.


It may be helpful for children and teens to save several emergency numbers to their cell phones.The ability to get immediate help for themselves or for a friend can make a difference.

  • The phone number for a trusted friend or relative

  • The non-emergency number for the local police department

  • The Crisis Text Line: 741741

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).


If you or someone you know needs immediate help, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Featured Health Topics


Federal Resources


Clinical Trials

Children are not little adults, yet they are often given medicines and treatments that were only tested in adults. There is a lot of evidence that children’s developing brains and bodies can respond to medicines and treatments differently than how adults respond. The way to get the best treatments for children is through research designed specifically for them.

Should your child participate in a clinical study?

Parents and caregivers may have many questions when they are considering enrolling a child in a clinical study, and that children and adolescents also want to know what they will go through. NIMH is committed to ensuring that families trying to decide whether to enroll their child in a clinical study get all the information they need to feel comfortable and make informed decisions. The safety of children remains the utmost priority for all NIMH and NIH research studies.

For more information, visit NIH Clinical Trials and You: For Parents and Children. To find studies for children and teens being conducted at NIMH, visit Join a Study: Children. To find a clinical trial near you, visit

Last Revised: May 2019

© Copyright National Institute of Mental Health - August 2019

Kids Playing with Chalk


Where do you begin? Start by talking with your child’s teacher or ask your family health care provider for a referral to a mental health care provider who focuses on children. Read more here:

Girl on the Rocks


How common is suicide in children and teens? What are the risk factors and warnings signs of suicide? Download the free NIMH suicide prevention FAQs brochure:

Basketball Players Listening to Coach


It’s tough to tell if troubling behavior in a teenager is a part of growing up or a problem that should be discussed with a health care provider. Read about possible warning signs for depression in teens:

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