Just like adults, children can experience mental health problems. However, they are less likely to identify or understand them.

Therefore, improving awareness of children’s mental health issues is essential.

This post explores the value of understanding children’s mental health problems. It then looks at what treatment options psychology has to offer and the effects it may have.

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Is children’s mental health a serious concern?

Researchers believe 20 million young people in the U.S. have a diagnosable mental health disorder. That’s approximately 20 percent of the under-18 population. Problems involve emotional instability, low mood, developmental disorders, and behavioral dysregulation. According to the CDC, the most common conditions are:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Disruptive behavior disorder

The causes of such widespread mental health problems are unknown. However, researchers believe they relate to cultural and biological factors. The family environment, pressures on work, and genes may all play a role in developing the widespread disease. Certain disorders may also become more common because of significant events like the COVID-19 pandemic or the war in Ukraine.

The requirement for mental health professionals who understand children’s needs is greater today than ever before. Practitioners need to provide culturally-sensitive care alongside families and the wider community.

Children’s mental health is a serious concern because it can have long-term effects. Troubled childhoods can result in:

  • Dysfunctional romantic relationships in adulthood
  • An inability to hold down a job or make a good income
  • Problems at college, including dropping out, depression, and suicide
  • Physical health issues, including cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases
  • Mental health problems, such as generalized anxiety and depression
  • Problems forming lasting social relationships or ties to the community

Unfortunately, the U.S. isn’t doing a good job of preventing problems with children’s mental health. CDC research suggests only 20 percent of the children who require help get it.

Why is children’s mental health important?

Children’s mental health is critical for many reasons, including their well-being and ability to function in society. Young people with mental health conditions may struggle to succeed in school, work, and society.

Mental health problems change how children feel on the inside. They then affect their lives on the outside. Behavioral problems typically emerge first, followed by emotional dysregulation later on. Parents should be aware that troubles can begin prenatally. Caregivers can communicate their dysfunction to children in the womb, both socially and chemically.

Case studies best illustrate the consequences of poor childhood mental health and how they reverberate into adulthood and society. Take the case of a boy called Simon, who his father physically abuses. Simon doesn’t understand why his father treats him harshly and believes it is a normal part of life. Therefore, he imbibes the lesson “might is right” and begins to take out his aggression on small pupils at his school.

Simon might be the one suffering at home, but his father’s actions are now causing problems for other children. Simon’s physical bullying causes several other children to experience trauma and require counseling and support in the future.

Without support, Simon’s life could go downhill rapidly. The principal could expel him, forcing him to enroll in a special school or none at all. Or he may take the lessons he learned from his father into adult life and continue them in the workplace. For instance, Simon could bully his colleagues and bring down a successful firm. He could also start self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, get into trouble with the police, or assault another adult.

With support, though, Simon’s life need not be a disaster. Avoiding damaging patterns early on would allow him to live a healthier life. A psychologist could nurture his true self and enable him to process his dad’s behavior. He would then see the impact it had on him, allowing him to get to grips with his situation and psychology,

Next, consider the case of an overweight girl, Wilma. Family circumstances at home mean it’s almost impossible for her to maintain a healthy weight. Unfortunately for Wilma, children at her school bully her for her size. Over time, she begins to hate her body and wonders why she doesn’t look like the other girls in her class.

When she reaches her teenage years, Wilma falls into a deep depression. She fears for her love life and starts harming her body. She also begins to eat more to address her emotional pain. This process sets off a downward spiral, eventually resulting in her hospitalization at age 30. Wilma couldn’t see how something as simple as her body could affect her life twenty or twenty-five years later. However, it led to events that worsened her mental health and denied her clarity. School bullying left her feeling traumatized and unable to face social situations.

Ultimately, children’s mental health is critical because they have a right to lead healthy, functional lives. They are innocent. However, they don’t always have access to proper care to diagnose, prevent, and treat the conditions they experience.

Other children’s health and mental issues

Children’s mental health may also be another issue. Those at the highest risk are often:

  • Immigrants
  • From low-income families
  • Ethnic minorities
  • Experiencing intellectual disabilities
  • Experiencing chronic medical conditions, such as poor hearing or eyesight

Therefore, public health institutions need to address it.

What can professional practitioners do to address childhood mental health issues?

Psychologists and other mental health professionals are conducting research they hope will enable them to develop more effective means of dealing with childhood mental health concerns. Recent scientific advances offer new insights into preventing and treating conditions for children of all ages.

Common approaches include:

  • Counseling for children with mental health disorders, including specific methods tailored to their conditions and personal characteristics
  • Peer-assisted learning programs aimed at improving intellectual attainment
  • Family-based education informs parents of children’s needs at every stage of the development process
  • Supporting teachers, social workers, and school assistants in identifying and accommodating children with mental health problems
  • Staging community-level events in coordination with other services, including the police, schools, and child protection systems, to enhance mental health coverage
  • Coordination with national-level partners, such as education and justice, to provide more equitable treatment of children affected by mental health disorders
  • Psychologists are also learning to tailor their approaches to children from different backgrounds. They now include factors in their methods, such as identity, cognition, and social engagement. Understanding how mental health conditions affect various subgroups enables them to provide better diagnoses and treatment.

Monitoring is another area where psychologists are making improvements. Professionals are developing tools and assessment techniques to identify children most at risk. They are also using technology to monitor development to detect warning signs of mental illness earlier.

Community engagement is also taking center stage. Psychologists are developing schemes for dysfunctional families, schools, social groups, public service departments, and clubs. These schemes aim to achieve measurable outcomes, such as reducing teen alcohol use or pregnancy. Psychologists give community members the tools they require to set boundaries and expectations while providing children with the skills they need to cope with life’s challenges.

How can public health professionals improve children’s access to mental health care?

Children deserve access to mental health services. However, they can’t always access them.

Fortunately, society can help. The CDC is one organization leading the charge. It already offers many free resources for children struggling with mental health issues and actively works to improve the dissemination of prevention and treatment in the community. The inability of families to connect to mental healthcare providers is a significant barrier to care. Services are often passive or too far away.

However, it is possible to improve access. For instance, policymakers could place children’s mental health clinics in elementary and secondary schools. Students could access these services as part of their daily routine without going off-site.

Practitioners could also expand their use of telemedicine. Offering online appointments would improve access for young people living in rural areas or low-income families unable to provide transport. Family-based psychological interventions may be even more beneficial. Providing talk therapy to parents, siblings, and children addresses the context in which mental health conditions arise and how to prevent them from getting worse.


Good mental health lets children develop to their full potential. That’s why it’s critical – it also prevents tremendous suffering.

Psychologists have a role at the highest level in organizing society’s response to childhood mental health issues. Children can enjoy a bright future if they adopt evidence-based approaches.