Mental Health Disorders in Children and Youth

It estimated that nearly 1 in 5 Ontario children under the age of 19 experiences a mental, emotional or behavioural disorder that is severe enough to seriously affect their daily functioning at home, school or within the community1. The good news is that early diagnosis and treatment lead to better outcomes for children later in life.

Some of the more common mental health disorders affecting children and youth are listed below. Click on a disorder to learn more.

Identifying the Signs

Recognizing symptoms is key! Family awareness and early identification are often the first steps to effective treatment for children and youth with mental health disorders.

It’s easy to recognize when a child has a fever. But a child’s mental health is different. It can be difficult to distinguish between ‘normal’ problems that all children and adolescents experience from time to time, and behaviour that may be indicative of a mental health disorder.

The following characteristics and behaviours may be signs of an underlying mental health disorder:

  • getting significantly lower marks in school
  • avoiding friends and family
  • having frequent outbursts of anger and rage
  • losing his or her appetite
  • having difficulty sleeping
  • rebelling against authority
  • drinking a lot and/or using drugs
  • not doing the things he or she used to enjoy
  • worrying constantly
  • experiencing frequent mood swings
  • not concerned with his or her appearance
  • obsessed with his or her weight
  • lacking energy or motivation
  • hitting or bullying other children
  • attempting to injure him or her self

Children and youth with the most serious mental health disorders (e.g., severe psychosis or schizophrenia) may exhibit:

  • distorted thinking
  • excessive anxiety
  • odd body movements
  • abnormal mood swings
  • acting overly suspicious of others
  • seeing or hearing things that others don’t see or hear

1 Ontario Child Health Study: Six-Month Prevalence of Disorder and Rates of Service Utilization Co-authored with Boyle, M.H., Szatmari, P., Rae-Grant, N.I., Links, P.S., Cadman, D.T., Byles, J.A., Crawford, J.W., Munroe Blum, H., Byrne, C., Thomas, H. and Woodward, C.A. in Archives of General Psychiatry, 44:832-836, 1987.


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