Mental Illness in Children

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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What is the prognosis of mental illness in children?

Children and youth with mental-health problems are at risk for having lower educational achievement, greater involvement with the criminal justice system, and fewer stable and longer-term placements in the child welfare system than their peers. Children and youth with mental-health problems are more likely to experience problems at school, be absent, or be suspended or expelled than are children with other disabilities. Youth in high school with mental-health problems are more likely to fail or drop out of school. When treated, children and youth with mental-health problems fare better at home, in schools, and in their communities.

Children with more anxiety disorders are at higher risk for anxiety, depression, and substance-abuse disorders in adulthood. They tend to achieve less academically and are more likely to engage in early parenthood and suicidal behaviors.

Depression can be quite chronic, in that 85% of people who have one episode of the illness will have another one within 15 years of the first episode. A bit over 50% of teens who are part of research studies on the treatment of depression improve significantly. Over 8% of adolescents suffer from depression that lasts a year or more. Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States in people over 5 years of age. This illness is a leading cause of health impairment (morbidity) and death (mortality). Certainly the worst potential outcome of depression, suicide is the third leading cause of death in teens.

About half of children who are diagnosed as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are thought to continue to have significant symptoms of the disorder into adulthood. Of those individuals, about half tend to exhibit less overt hyperactivity than they did as children. People with this disorder are at higher risk for lower educational achievement as children, job and relationship loss, as well as experiencing more automobile accidents and drug use as teens and adults, particularly if left untreated.

While the prognosis for bipolar disorder indicates that individuals with this disorder can expect to experience episodes of some sort of mood problem up to 60% of the time, those episodes can be well managed by comprehensive treatment. There are a number of potential complications of bipolar disorder, particularly if left untreated. This illness may be compounded by other mental-health problems, including substance abuse and addiction. The risk of committing suicide is 60 times higher for people with bipolar disorder compared to the general population. Bipolar disorder is the fifth leading cause of disability and the ninth leading cause of years lost to death or disability worldwide.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/20/2015

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