Written By: UMA Editorial Team |

Published on: February 5, 2024

Children’s Mental Health Week, observed annually in the first full week of February, serves as a crucial event to emphasize the importance of mental health and foster positive well-being in children and young individuals. As parents, caregivers, and educators, understanding the significance of mental health in children is paramount. While physical health tends to take precedence, it is crucial to acknowledge that mental health plays an equally vital role, in impacting a child’s overall well-being, behavior, and development.

Early Childhood: The Foundation for Mental Well-being

Mental, behavioral, and developmental disorders can emerge in early childhood. Recognizing the signs and providing early intervention is crucial for setting the stage for positive mental health outcomes in later years.

1 in 6 U.S. children aged 2–8 years has a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder.

The Significance of Mental Health in Children

While children may not always express their emotions and struggles openly, mental health profoundly affects their overall well-being, behavior, and development. Parents, caregivers, and educators need to recognize the impact of mental health on children’s lives and proactively support their emotional growth.

Creating a Nurturing Environment for Children

To promote positive mental health in children, it is vital to establish a safe and nurturing environment where they can freely express their thoughts and emotions. Encouraging open communication, active listening, and validation of their feelings can significantly contribute to their mental well-being.

Understanding Mental Health Indicators

National data provides insights into positive mental health indicators among children. From a young age, most children exhibit signs of positive mental health, such as affection, resilience, curiosity, and positivity. These indicators highlight the inherent strength and adaptability of children, which can be nurtured to foster their overall well-being.

  • Among children ages 3-5 years, the majority consistently showed affection (97.0%), resilience (87.9%), positivity (98.7%), and curiosity (93.9%).
  • Among children ages 6-11 years, curiosity (93.0%), persistence (84.2%), and self-control (73.8%) were predominantly observed.
  • For children ages 12-17 years, curiosity (86.5%), persistence (84.7%), and self-control (79.8%) were commonly reported.

Facts about Mental Health in U.S. Children: Shining a Light on the Journey

Let us shed light on some facts about mental health in U.S. children, which further emphasize the importance of our collective efforts:

Commonly Diagnosed Mental Disorders:

  • ADHD, anxiety problems, behavior problems, and depression are the most prevalent mental disorders among children.
  • Estimates of diagnoses in children aged 3-17 years:
    • ADHD: 9.8% (approximately 6.0 million)
    • Anxiety: 9.4% (approximately 5.8 million)
    • Behavior problems: 8.9% (approximately 5.5 million)
    • Depression: 4.4% (approximately 2.7 million)

Co-Occurrence of Mental Disorders: Many of these conditions commonly occur together:

  • Among children with depression, about 3 in 4 also had anxiety (73.8%), and almost 1 in 2 had behavior problems (47.2%).
  • For children with anxiety, more than 1 in 3 also had behavior problems (37.9%), and about 1 in 3 also had depression (32.3%).
  • For children with behavior problems, more than 1 in 3 also had anxiety (36.6%), and about 1 in 5 also had depression (20.3%).

Increase in Depression and Anxiety:

  • “Ever having been diagnosed with either anxiety or depression” among children aged 6–17 years increased from 5.4% in 2003 to 8.4% in 2011–2012.
  • “Ever having been diagnosed with anxiety” increased from 5.5% in 2007 to 6.4% in 2011–2012.
  • “Ever having been diagnosed with depression” remained stable between 2007 (4.7%) and 2011-2012 (4.9%).

Concerns Among Adolescents: Among adolescents aged 12-17 years in 2018-2019 reporting on the past year:

  • 15.1% had a major depressive episode.
  • 36.7% had persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
  • 4.1% had a substance use disorder.
  • 1.6% had an alcohol use disorder.
  • 3.2% had an illicit drug use disorder.
  • 18.8% seriously considered attempting suicide.
  • 15.7% made a suicide plan.
  • 8.9% attempted suicide.
  • 2.5% made a suicide attempt requiring medical treatment.

Treatment Rates: While these statistics shed light on the challenges, it is essential to remember that support and treatment can make a profound difference in a child’s life:

Treatment rates vary among different mental disorders:

  • Nearly 8 in 10 children (78.1%) with depression received treatment.
  • 6 in 10 children (59.3%) with anxiety received treatment.
  • More than 5 in 10 children (53.5%) with behavior disorders received treatment.

Early Onset of Mental Disorders:

  • 1 in 6 U.S. children aged 2–8 years (17.4%) had a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder.

Prevalence Changes with Age:

  • Diagnoses of ADHD, anxiety, and depression become more common with increased age.
  • Behavior problems are more prevalent among children aged 6–11 years than younger or older children.

Embracing the Journey and Nurturing Resilient Minds:

As we navigate the complexities of children’s mental health, let us embark on this journey together. By prioritizing mental well-being, fostering understanding, and providing unwavering support, we can empower children to build resilience and lead fulfilling lives. Let Mental Health Week serve as a poignant reminder of the invaluable role we play in nurturing the mental well-being of our children.

Remember, every step we take toward creating a mentally healthy world for our children is a stride toward a brighter future. Mental Health Week reminds us to prioritize the well-being of our children, addressing their mental health needs with empathy and understanding. By promoting positive mental health practices, we pave the way for healthier and happier futures.

*These statistics are derived from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s data on children’s mental health, adolescents’ substance abuse, and suicide. The intent is to inform and educate, rather than to instill fear.