Common Mental Disorders in Children

Find out about the symptoms, treatment options and recent research findings for:

Anxiety Disorders


Bipolar (Manic-Depressive) Disorder



Anxiety Disorders

0pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">Serious problems with anxiety are characterized by persistent, intense fears and worries that disrupt daily activities such as sleeping, attending school or making friends.


Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – Typically affects children ages 10 to 12. Involves recurring fears and worries that are difficult to control. Children with GAD tend to:

0pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">• Worry about everything – school, sports, being on time, natural disasters.

0pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">• Be restless, irritable, tense or easily tired.

0pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">• Have trouble concentrating or sleeping.

• Be eager to please others; they may be perfectionists.


font-weight: normal">SeparatioAnxiety Disorder – May start betweethe ages of 3 and 7. Childrewith a separatioanxiety disorder may exhibit:

• Intense anxiety about being away from home or caregivers.
• Affected ability to functiosocially and ischool.
• Clinginess to parents or refusal to go to school.
• Fear of sleeping alone, or nightmares about separation.
• Physical symptoms, such as stomachaches and headaches.

font-weight: normal">Social Phobia – Typically, starts iadolescence. Symptoms include:

• Constant fear of social performance situations such as speaking iclass or eating ipublic.

• Fear accompanied by sweating, blushing, heart palpitations, shortness of breath or muscle tenseness.

• Avoidance of feared situations such as school or parties.

• Extreme sensitivity to criticism, low self-esteem.

• Trouble being assertive.

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">Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – May affect childreof any age. Symptoms include:

">• Frequent and uncontrollable thoughts (“obsessions”).

">• Repeated performance of routines or rituals (“compulsions”), such as excessive hand washing, counting, repeating words silently or rechecking completed tasks.

">• Obsessions and compulsions that cause anxiety.


">Other Anxieties – Childremay also suffer from panic disorder, phobias, or post-traumatic stress disorder.


Treatment Options

">• Cognitive-behavioral treatment to deal with fears by modifying the way the child thinks and behaves.

">• Relaxatiotechniques such as biofeedback to control stress and muscle tension.

">• Family therapy and parent training.

">• Medication.


Recent Research

• As many as two-thirds of womewith eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia may have a history of childhood anxiety disorders, particularly social phobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

• The National Institute of Mental Health is conducting a large, multisite study comparing Zoloft, cognitive therapy and a combinatioof Zoloft and cognitive therapy to a placebo.



Persistent feelings of sadness or irritability that interfere with home, school or social life. Symptoms include:

• Frequent sadness, tearfulness, crying, hopelessness.

• Decreased interest iactivities, boredom, low energy.

• Social isolation, poor communication, difficulty with relationships.

• Low self-esteem and guilt.

• Extreme sensitivity to rejectioor failure.

• Increased irritability, anger or hostility.

• Frequent complaints of physical illnesses such as headaches and stomachaches.

• Frequent absences from school or poor performance ischool.

• Poor concentration.

• A major change ieating and/or sleeping patterns.

• Talk of or efforts to ruaway from home.

• Thoughts or expressions of suicide or self-destructive behavior.


Treatment Options

• Cognitive-behavioral therapy

• Interpersonal psychotherapy

• Antidepressant medication

• Family therapy


Recent Research

The National Institute for Mental Health’s Treatment for Adolescents with DepressioStudy found a combinatioof Prozac and cognitive-behavioral therapy produced the best success rate itreating depressed adolescents. Medicatioalone was second most effective, followed by cognitive-behavioral therapy alone.


Bipolar (Manic-Depressive) Disorder

A mood disorder marked by extreme changes imood, energy levels and behavior. See Depressiofor depressive symptoms. Manic symptoms include:

• Overly silly and elated moods, increased energy.

• Overly inflated self-esteem; grandiosity.

• Decreased need for sleep.

• Increased talking; talks too much, too fast or cannot be interrupted.

• Distractibility.

• Hypersexuality; increased sexual thoughts, feelings or behaviors.

• Engages irisky behaviors or activities.


Treatment Options

• Mood stabilizing medications to reduce the number and severity of manic episodes and prevent depression.

• Psychotherapy to help the child understand himself, adapt to stresses and improve relationships.

• Family therapy to establish structure and parenting coping skills.

Recent Research

The National Institute for Mental Health is currently evaluating the effectiveness of the drugs lithium, valproate and risperidone itreating childreand adolescents with bipolar disorder.