Children and Mental Illness: What You Need to Know

May is Mental Health Awareness month.  Mental health continues to be a taboo subject for many.  Because of shame and the stigma of mental illness, too many individuals do to not seek out the help they need.  

Many parents do not seek treatment for their children because of misconceptions and misunderstandings.  For example, the myth that children will outgrow mental illness or it's “just a stage.” Fact: children are less likely to “grow out” of psychiatric disorders than they are to “grow into” more debilitating conditions.

I want to share with you some important statistics about children and mental illness, show you some warning signs, and provide helpful resources.  Let's be educated as individuals and as parents. You may not have a child who is suffering, but you likely know another parent who is.

Statistics about children and mental illness (from

  • 1 in 5 children ages 13-18 have, or will have a serious mental illness

  • 20% of youth ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition

  • 11% of youth have a mood disorder

  • 10% of youth have a behavior or conduct disorder

  • 8% of youth have an anxiety disorder

  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in youth ages 15 - 24.

Warning signs (from

  • Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than 2 weeks (e.g., crying regularly, feeling fatigued, feeling unmotivated).

  • Trying to harm or kill oneself or making plans to do so.

  • Out-of-control, risk-taking behaviors that can cause harm to self or others.

  • Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart, physical discomfort or fast breathing.

  • Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to lose weight; significant weight loss or gain.

  • Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships.

  • Repeated use of drugs or alcohol.

  • Drastic changes in behavior, personality or sleeping habits (e.g., waking up early and acting agitated).

  • Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still that can lead to failure in school.

  • Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities like hanging out with friends or going to classes.

If you observe any of these signs in your children (or in yourself), reach out for help.  Not every problem is serious, but if you see warning signs take it seriously.  I am guilty of trying to ignore problems, wishing them away. While you can’t wish away mental illness, there is help and resources available to you.

Talk to your child’s pediatrician: Ask questions and learn everything you can about the behavior or symptoms that worry you.

Get a referral to a mental health specialist - Your pediatrician can assist you with this. 

Work with the school - If your child is in school, ask the teacher if your child has been showing worrisome changes in behavior. Share this with your child's doctor or health care provider. Keep in mind that every child is different.

Connect with other families - don’t walk this road alone. Click on the following links for resources:

The absolute worst thing you can do is to ignore the problem or suffer alone.  Please share this post to raise awareness for children and parents dealing with mental illness. 


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Melissa Clark