Mental illness in kids

A mental illness can be frightening whatever the age of the sufferer, but when a child is affected it can be even more worrying for family. Read on to find out what you need to know to get the help you need if your child has a problem.

This article was published by on Feb 4, 2014.  


What is mental illness?

A mental illness is a health problem that significantly affects how a person feels, thinks, behaves and interacts with other people. Mental disorders are common – about one in five Australians will experience a mental illness and almost half of the entire population will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives[1].

Anxiety disorders affect around 14 percent of the adult population every year while depression affects around six percent. The remainder are affected by substance abuse disorders, psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia, personality disorders and other conditions and many can suffer multiple mental health issues simultaneously[2].

Anyone can develop a mental illness, including children, and no one is immune to mental health problems. The effect of mental illness can be severe on individuals and their families, and its influence has a profound impact on our society[3].

In Australia there’s a wide array of resources available to people seeking information, advice on and support for mental health issues. Each state and territory government has its own Mental Health Act, which, in general, offers a legislative framework that sets out the rights of people with mental illness and assists with their recovery and participation in community life[4].

Unfortunately, in most parts of the world, mental health and mental disorders are not given anywhere near the same degree of importance as physical health and go largely ignored or neglected[5].

This, in part, is manifested by a common stigma associated with mental illness. It can be damaging because it involves inaccurate and hurtful representations of the mentally ill as violent, comical or incompetent – dehumanising and labelling people as an object of fear or ridicule. This can result in self-stigma, which is the acceptance of prejudiced perceptions held by others and can lead to a reluctance to seek treatment, excessive reliance on others, social withdrawal, poor self-worth and even abuse of alcohol and drugs[6].

How are children affected by mental illness?

Mental health problems aren’t just suffered by adults; they also affect children and adolescence. A study conducted by the Mental Health and Special Projects Branch, Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing in Canberra was published in 2000 and titled The Child and Adolescent Component of the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. It was the largest study of child and adolescent mental health conducted in Australia and also one of the few national studies to be conducted in the world[7].

In its findings it recorded that a staggering 14 percent of Australian children and adolescents aged from four to 17 years experience mental health problems and many of these are serious mental illnesses that interfere with the child or adolescent’s everyday life[8].

Children can suffer from the following mental illnesses[9]:

  • Anxiety disorders: Children with anxiety disorders respond to certain things or situations with fear and dread, as well as with physical signs of anxiety (nervousness) such as a rapid heartbeat and sweating.
  • Disruptive behaviour disorders: Children with these disorders tend to defy rules and often are disruptive in structured environments, such as school.
  • Pervasive development disorders: Children with these disorders are confused in their thinking and generally have problems understanding the world around them.
  • Eating disorders: Eating disorders involve intense emotions and attitudes, as well as unusual behaviours associated with weight and food.
  • Elimination disorders: These disorders affect behaviour related to the elimination of body wastes (poo and urine).
  • Affective (mood) disorders: These disorders involve persistent feelings of sadness and many involve rapidly changing moods.
  • SchizophreniaThis is a serious disorder that involves distorted perceptions and thoughts.
  • Tic disorders: These disorders cause a person to perform repeated, sudden, involuntary and often meaningless movements and sounds called tics.

Some of these illnesses, such as anxiety, eating and mood disorders, as well as schizophrenia, can occur in adults and children. Others, such as behaviour and development disorders, elimination disorders and learning and communication disorders, begin in childhood but can continue into adulthood. It is not unusual for a child to have more than one disorder[10].

 To read the article in its entirety, visit


1.…, retrieved on January 23, 2013
2.…, retrieved on January 23, 2013
3., retrieved on January 23, 2013
4.…, retrieved on January 23, 2013
5., retrieved on January 23, 2013
6., retrieved on January 23, 2013
7.…, retrieved on January 23, 2013
8.…, retrieved on January 23, 2013
9.…, retrieved on January 23, 2013