Brain development/Law/Policy School of Medicine

Mental Health Issues Can Affect Children As Young As Three


According to the Centers for Disease Control, around 12 million children and teens are not receiving the mental health treatment they need.

Mental health disorders like depression often hit people in early adulthood, but now a new report on NBC News explains that serious mental and emotional problems can begin with children as young as two to five years old.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 15 million children in America from the ages of 3 to 17 have a mental, emotional, or behavioral problem. This means that 1 in 5 children in this age range could be in need of treatment, but only 20% are diagnosed and are getting help, which means that 12 million young people are not getting the help they need.

Research also shows that serious depression is getting worse among teenagers. In 2015, suicides among teenage girls hit a 40-year high, according to NBC News. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 50% of mental health issues develop by the age of 14, and the risk of a teenager developing depression or bipolar disorder can almost double between the ages of 13 and 18.

Dr. Harold Koplewicz, president and founder of The Child Mind Institute, says, “Child and adolescent mental health disorders are the most common illnesses that children will experience under the age of 18. It’s pretty amazing, because the number’s so large that I think it’s hard to wrap our heads around it.”

In researching young depression and other mental health disorders, The Child Mind Institute examined 10,000 brain scans of young children and teenagers, looking for common patterns and warning signs.

Dr. Joan Luby, the director of the Early Emotional Development program at the Washington University School of Medicine, told WebMD in 2010, “There have been estimates of 1% to 2% [of mental health issues in pre-school aged children]. That is about the same as [the prevalence] for school age, up to age 13 or so. Then there is a rise.”

Luby also told NBC News that “Young children are more cognitively sophisticated, more emotionally sophisticated, than we previously understood. They have complex emotions. They’re aware of emotions in their environment. They feel emotions like guilt. They have all the prerequisites of what depressive symptoms are.”

Koplewicz adds that with teenagers, they “have a different kind of depression. They don’t seem sad. They seem irritable. This really has an effect on [their] concentration, which will affect school. It will affect your desire to continue playing sports. It’ll affect your desire of being with your friends.”