A recent study released in JAMA Pediatrics estimated that 7.7 million children, roughly 16.5 percent nationwide, have at least one mental health disorder. Unfortunately, the number of youth experiencing mental health disorders is currently on the rise.

Mental health issues do not discriminate when it comes to age. This means it can affect prepubescent children as well as our teenagers. Teenagers, however, are somewhat more vulnerable to this concerning health issue. Even in healthy children, puberty is a time of massive change. Hormonal changes, physical changes, sexual changes, and social changes can all combine to create mood swings and other upsetting symptoms. It can be challenging for parents of teens to differentiate between the typical moodiness of puberty and mental health conditions that require professional attention.

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No matter their age, if you are wondering about the source of your child's behaviors, we encourage you to contact your pediatrician to discuss your concerns. Identifying mental disorders and treating them in children can be very tricky, but we at Capital Area Pediatrics are prepared to help you and your child. We are more than happy to assist with making a diagnosis; with providing care for common mental health conditions; with making a referral to specialists as needed; and with basic medication management. To schedule an appointment with a CAP pediatrician and begin this important conversation with our team, find your nearest location and contact us today.

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FAQs on Mental Health in Children

What are the Most Common Mental Health Issues Among Children?

Anxiety and depression are the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers the following stats for each disorder:

  • 7.1% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 4.4 million) have diagnosed anxiety.
  • 3.2% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 1.9 million) have diagnosed depression.

What Are Common Signs of Anxiety in Children?

Anxiety disorders are complex. Unlike normal anxiety - which everyone experiences - clinical anxiety does not go away and can worsen with time. As a result, it can interfere with daily functions (i.e. chores, school, etc.).

Anxiety presents itself in many different ways in children, some that are not always easily recognizable. Many parents find it helpful to look for anxiety by monitoring for negative behaviors that are becoming consistent and intense. These behaviors and symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Inattention and poor focus
  • Somatic symptoms like headaches or stomach aches
  • Avoidance
  • Tantrums
  • Crying
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Meltdowns after school about homework
  • Difficulties with transitions within school, as well as between school and an activity/sport
  • Difficulty settling down for bed
  • Having high expectations for school work, homework and sports performance

What Are Common Signs of Depression in Children?

Depression is characterized by a persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities. Depression is a mood disorder, and is therefore very different from a normal period of feeling sad. Its symptoms cause significant impairments in daily life. Examples of behaviors often seen when children are depressed include:

  • Feeling chronically sad, hopeless, or irritable
  • Children not wanting to participate in or enjoying previously fun activities
  • Changes in eating patterns (i.e. eating a lot more or a lot less than usual)
  • Changes in sleep patterns (i.e. sleeping a lot more or a lot less than usual)
  • Changes in energy, being tired and sluggish, or tense and restless, a lot of the time
  • Having a hard time paying attention
  • Feeling worthless, useless, guilty, helpless, or hopeless
  • Self-injury and self-destructive behavior
  • Extreme depression can ultimately lead a child to think about suicide or plan for suicide.

When Should Parents Seek Help?

For parents, one of the hardest things they will ever do is try to differentiate between their children’s emotions, and the potential symptoms of a mental health disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, parents should seek help:

  • If a child engages in unsafe behavior or talks about wanting to hurt him or herself, and/or hurt someone else.
  • If a child’s behavior or emotional difficulties last for more than a few weeks at a time.
  • If a child’s emotional difficulties cause problems at school, at home, or with friends.

What are the Treatment Options?

Treatment will be heavily dependent on a final diagnosis, as well as on the child’s environment. In general, however, treatment recommendations can include:

  • Psychotherapy (talk therapy)
  • Medications
  • Family counseling
  • Support for parents

How Can Capital Area Pediatrics Assist My Family?

Capital Area Pediatrics offers a variety of entry points and services to families struggling with and concerned about pediatric mental health disorders:

  • Diagnosis: Our staff is able to help families make a diagnosis when addressing pediatric mental health concerns. Our team’s line-up includes providers trained in the evaluation and treatment of common mental health conditions. We also offer universal screening services to our pediatric patients, including those who are showing signs of distress at a young age.
  • Treatment: Our staff is able to offer counseling services at several CAP locations. If these services are needed, your pediatrician will gladly discuss care options with your family and help you arrange your first appointment. CAP’s team will also be able to help families with basic medication management services if needed. Note that for complicated and/or emergency situations, our doctors may refer your family to our in-house Nurse Navigator, Jennie Boyd, RN.
  • Referrals: Should a referral be needed for more complicated cases, we will gladly provide your family with one to help transition you to the next stage of care. During this process, your doctor will also discuss our specialized mental health care coordination services with your family, which will allow specialists and your pediatrician to communicate and work together when caring for your child. CAP’s team will also be able to recommend supportive resources in your local community.