How to Diagnose Mental Illness in Children

There is joy and cheer when children are around. No one in their wildest dreams will ever associate something so grave and complex such as mental illness with children. However, mental health problems do occur in 1 in 10 children and needs immediate medical attention. The sooner the problem is addressed, the better response it will have in their lives. If you too are looking for some answers, the following article will cover some information on how to diagnose mental illness in children.


Over 70% of children who suffer from mental illness and do not receive timely intervention. This not just affects their emotional well-being, but also their physical health. Children can suffer from depression, conduct disorder, anxiety, etc. Even infants and toddlers can suffer from serious mental health disorders.

It is a misconception that children are immune to mental health problems and do not suffer from any effects of adversity or trauma. The general conception that children will ‘grow out’ of their emotional and behavioural problems. This is wrong and children need help of a trained and qualified professional to help them.

The following easy to understand and recognize signs will help you learn how to diagnose mental illness in children.

Symptoms of Mental Health Problems in Children

It is very important for parents and caretakers to understand the signs of mental health problem in a child. At times, you just need to trust your gut feeling that says, ‘There is something wrong’.

The sign of mental illness in children can vary by age and type of illness. You may find the child is sad and withdrawn for more than 2-weeks. In some cases, the child may be extremely anxious or worried that affects his/her daily tasks.

Some children may exhibit signs of extreme behaviour such as hyperactivity, aggressiveness or is completely withdrawn. In older children, you may find the child suddenly or gradually exhibits negative behaviour or there is a steep drop in the school grades.

Keep an eye for the following signs of children mental illness, it may help save a child from emotional doom and improve his/her quality of life.

Children in Preschool or early elementary years may show:

  • Behavioral problems
  • Hyperactivity as compared to other children in the group
  • Persistent nightmares
  • Sleep problems
  • Excessive crying or fear
  • Extreme disobedience or aggression
  • Temper tantrums that are beyond control
  • The child has extreme separation anxiety from a parent that does not seem to cease with age.

Older Children

  • Excessive worry
  • Extreme hyperactivity
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of weight suddenly
  • Loss in appetite
  • Excessive worry about putting on weight
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Loss of interest in friends
  • Changes in sleep habits or sleeplessness
  • Negative changes in school performance
  • The child appears sad for a prolonged period of time
  • Substance abuse
  • Hallucination


Teen is the most vulnerable age for most children. Some may quiver under peer social pressure. This is the most important period of their life where positive motivation will help them overcome their anxieties and fears. Some of the symptoms of mental illness in teens include
  • Signs of destructive behavior like setting fire, damaging property, harming animals
  • The teen may threaten to run away or even self-harm
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Their social media accounts may suggest they are nurturing a desire to harm themselves or others, suffering from depression and need help.
These are some of the signs of mental illness in children. Know the signs so you can help your child. Children are growing and changing emotionally, physical as well as mentally. Timely intervention will help the child face their mental health problems positively and overcome or control the illness with time.

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