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Anxiety & Panic Disorders Health Center

Mental Illness in Children

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How Is Mental Illness in Children Treated?

Mental illnesses are like many medical disorders that require ongoing treatment. Although much progress has been made in the treatment of adults with mental disorders, the treatment of children is not as well understood. Experts are still exploring which treatments work best for which conditions in children. For now, many of the treatment options used for children, including many medications, are the same as what is used to treat adults. The most common treatment options used include:

  • Medication: Many mental illnesses can be effectively treated with medications in combination with therapy. The drugs often used to treat mental disorders in children include antipsychotics, antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, stimulants, and mood stabilizing drugs.
  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy (a type of counseling) addresses the emotional response to mental illness. It is a process in which trained mental health professionals help people deal with their illness, often by talking through strategies for understanding and dealing with their symptoms, thoughts, and behaviors. Types of psychotherapy often used with children are supportive, cognitive behavioral, interpersonal, group, and family therapy.
  • Creative therapies: Certain therapies, such as art therapy or play therapy, may be helpful, especially with young children who may have trouble communicating their thoughts and feelings.

What Is the Outlook for Children With Mental Illness?

When treated appropriately and early, many children can fully recover from their mental illness or successfully control their symptoms. While some children become disabled adults because of a chronic or severe disorder, many people who have a mental illness are able to live full and productive lives.

It is very important to seek treatment for your child if they are displaying any symptoms of mental illness. Without treatment, many mental disorders can continue into adulthood and lead to problems in all areas of the person's adult life. People with untreated mental disorders are at high risk for many problems, including alcohol or drug abuse, and violent or self-destructive behavior, even suicide.

What Research Is Being Done on Mental Illness in Children?

To date, most research on mental illness has centered on mental disorders in adults. However, the mental health community has now begun to focus on mental illness in children. Researchers are looking at childhood development in terms of what is normal and abnormal, trying to understand how factors affecting development can have an impact on mental health. The goal is to try to predict, and ultimately, prevent, developmental problems that could lead to mental illness. A key part of this research is the identification of risk factors -- factors that increase a child's chances of developing a mental disorder. In addition, the mental health community is calling for additional research on medications used to treat children with mental disorders.

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