Mental Disorders in Children and Adolescents
Date: 22 April 2008
Although it is sometimes assumed that childhood and adolescence are times of carefree bliss, as many as 20% of children and adolescents have one or more diagnosable mental disorders. Most of these disorders may be viewed as exaggerations or distortions of normal behaviors and emotions.
Like adults, children and adolescents are temperamentally variable; some are shy and reticent, others socially exuberant, some methodical and cautious, still others are impulsive and careless. Whether a child is behaving like a typical child or has a disorder is determined by the presence of impairment and distress related to the symptoms at hand. For example, a 12-yr-old girl may be frightened by the prospect of delivering a book report in front of her class. This fear would not be viewed as social phobia unless her fears were severe enough to cause clinically significant impairments and distress.
There is much overlap between the symptoms of many disorders and the challenging behaviors and emotions of normal children. Thus, many of the strategies useful for addressing behavioral problems in children can also be applied to children with mental disorders. Furthermore, appropriate management of childhood behavioral problems may prevent temperamentally vulnerable children from developing a full-blown disorder.
The most common mental disorders of childhood and adolescence fall into 4 broad categories: anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, mood disorders (primarily depression), and disruptive behavioral disorders. However, more often than not, children and adolescents have symptoms and problems that cut across diagnostic boundaries.