Children's Mental Health Facts (cont.)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Young people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are unable to focus their attention and are often impulsive and easily distracted. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder occurs in up to five of every 100 children (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). Most children with this disorder have great difficulty remaining still, taking turns, and keeping quiet. Symptoms must be evident in at least two settings, such as home and school, in order for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder to be diagnosed. For more, please read the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder article.

Learning Disorders

Difficulties that make it harder for children and adolescents to receive or express information could be a sign of learning disorders. Learning disorders can show up as problems with spoken and written language, coordination, attention, or self-control.

Conduct Disorder

Young people with conduct disorder usually have little concern for others and repeatedly violate the basic rights of others and the rules of society. Conduct disorder causes children and adolescents to act out their feelings or impulses in destructive ways. The offenses these children and adolescents commit often grow more serious over time. Such offenses may include lying, theft, aggression, truancy, the setting of fires, and vandalism. Current research has yielded varying estimates of the number of young people with this disorder, ranging from one to four of every 100 children 9 to 17 years of age (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999).

Eating Disorders

Children or adolescents who are intensely afraid of gaining weight and do not believe that they are underweight may have eating disorders. Eating disorders can be life threatening. Young people with anorexia nervosa, for example, have difficulty maintaining a minimum healthy body weight. Anorexia affects one in every 100 to 200 adolescent girls and a much smaller number of boys (National Institutes of Health, 1999). For more, please read the Anorexia Nervosa article.

Youngsters with bulimia nervosa feel compelled to binge (eat huge amounts of food in one sitting). After a binge, in order to prevent weight gain, they rid their bodies of the food by vomiting, abusing laxatives, taking enemas, or exercising obsessively. Reported rates of bulimia vary from one to three of every 100 young people (National Institutes of Health, 1999). For more, please read the Bulimia article.


Children with autism, also called autistic disorder, have problems interacting and communicating with others. Autism appears before the third birthday, causing children to act inappropriately, often repeating behaviors over long periods of time. For example, some children bang their heads, rock, or spin objects. Symptoms of autism range from mild to severe. Children with autism may have a very limited awareness of others and are at increased risk for other mental disorders. Studies suggest that autism affects 10 to 12 of every 10,000 children (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). For more, please read the Autism article.


Young people with schizophrenia have psychotic periods that may involve hallucinations, withdrawal from others, and loss of contact with reality. Other symptoms include delusional or disordered thoughts and an inability to experience pleasure. Schizophrenia occurs in about five of every 1,000 children (National Institutes of Health, 1997). For more, please read the Schizophrenia article.

Treatment, Support Services, and Research: Sources of Hope

Now, more than ever before, there is hope for young people with mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Most of the symptoms and distress associated with childhood and adolescent mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders can be alleviated with timely and appropriate treatment and supports.

In addition, researchers are working to gain new scientific insights that will lead to better treatments and cures for mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Innovative studies also are exploring new ways of delivering services to prevent and treat these disorders. Research efforts are expected to lead to more effective use of existing treatments, so children and their families can live happier, healthier, and more fulfilling lives.

Many of these research studies are funded by Federal agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services, including the:

  • National Institutes of Health
    • National Institute of Mental Health
    • National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
    • National Institute on Drug Abuse
    • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
    • Center for Mental Health Services
    • Center for Substance Abuse Prevention
    • Center for Substance Abuse Treatment
  • Administration for Children and Families
  • Health Resources and Services Administration
Source: National Institutes of Mental Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (

Last Editorial Review: 7/7/2004

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