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Overview of childhood psychiatric disorders including children and depression, ADHD, anxiety, conduct disorder, and autism.


"If we paid no more attention to plants than we have to our children,
we would now be living in a jungle of weeds."

That sentiment, expressed by the late 19th-century naturalist and plant expert Luther Burbank, still bears some truth today. Concern about children's health has certainly increased since Burbank's day. But that concern has not translated into knowledge about children's mental health. Of 12 million American children suffering from mental illness, fewer than one in five receive treatment of any kind. That means that eight out of 10 children suffering from mental illness do not receive the care they need. By comparison, 74 percent or nearly three out of four children suffering from physical handicaps receive treatment.

For much of history, childhood was considered a happy, idyllic period of life. Children were not thought to suffer mental or emotional problems because they were spared the stresses adults must face. Research conducted since the 1960s, however, shows that children do suffer from depression and manic-depressive and anxiety disorders, illnesses once thought to be reserved for adults. From 3 to 6 million children suffer from clinical depression and are at high risk for suicide, the third leading cause of death among young people. Every hour, 57 children and teenagers try to kill themselves; every day 18 succeed.

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Between 200,000 and 300,000 children suffer from autism, a pervasive developmental disorder that appears in the first three years of life. Millions suffer from learning disorders--attention deficit disorder, attachment disorders, conduct disorders and substance abuse.

Overview of childhood psychiatric disorders including children and depression, ADHD, anxiety, conduct disorder, and autism.Parents whose children suffer from these illnesses often ask themselves, "What did I do wrong?" Self-blaming is not appropriate, since the causes are complex and never due to any single factor. Research indicates that many mental illnesses have a biological component which makes a child susceptible to the disorder. Feelings of guilt about a child's mental illness are often as inappropriate as feelings of guilt about other childhood illnesses or about inherited health problems.

The key is to recognize the problem and seek appropriate treatment. As with other types of illnesses, mental disorders have specific diagnostic criteria and treatments, and a complete evaluation by a child psychiatrist can determine whether a child needs help. Here's an overview of the illnesses, their symptoms, theories of causes and available treatments.

Children and Depression

Like adults, children can experience the normal mood many of us refer to as "depression." This happens when we're frustrated, disappointed or sad about a loss in our lives. Part of the normal ups and downs of life, this feeling fades relatively quickly. Studies of children aged six to 12, however, have shown that as many as one in 10 suffer from the illness of depression. These children cannot escape their feelings of sadness for long periods of time.

Like depression in adults, the illness has the following symptoms in a child:

  • sadness
  • hopelessness
  • feelings of worthlessness
  • excessive guilt
  • change in appetite
  • loss of interest in activities
  • recurring thoughts of death or suicide
  • loss of energy
  • helplessness
  • fatigue
  • low self-esteem
  • inability to concentrate
  • change in sleep patterns

continue: Causes and Treatment of Depression in Children