Common Conditions

There are many common mental health conditions that can be difficult to work through on your own. Sometimes it’s difficult to know if your child is going through a rough patch or suffering from something more serious. Working with a healthcare professional to discuss your child’s symptoms can be the first step to getting help. At Dell Children’s our Ascension caregivers specialize in treating young children and teenagers to help restore hope and health.

Ascension care teams at Dell Children’s are here for you and your family.  We provide compassionate, personalized care to meet your needs. Most common treatments include both medication and talking to a therapist. Parents can help by working closely with health care professionals to understand their child’s medications, symptoms and healthy ways to cope.

Following are some of the most common psychiatric disorders that children and teens experience.


Depression is more than feeling sad. It is serious and can cause stress in a person’s life. Those with depression can have both emotional and physical symptoms that make life very difficult. Symptoms can include:

  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Changes in sleep — sleeping more or trouble sleeping
  • Struggling to pay attention in school or having a “foggy brain”
  • Feeling angry or frustrated more often
  • Not enjoying things they used to like (favorite activities or socializing with friends)
  • Crying more often
  • Increase in headaches or stomachaches

Bipolar Disorder

While most children go through mood swings or changes, it does not mean the child has bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder involves times when a child will feel depressed (see above), and during these times children may also have stronger feelings of anger and frustration.

Some children will also have what are called manic episodes.  This can include:

  • Extreme increase in energy
  • Overly inflated self-confidence
  • More risk-taking or impulsive behavior
  • Speaking very fast or saying their thoughts are “racing”
  • Little need for sleep that lasts longer than a few days
  • Seeing or hearing things that are not there or believing things that are not true

Suicidal Thoughts

Before trying to take his or her own life (suicide), a teen may have thoughts of wanting to die. This kind of thinking is called suicidal thoughts or suicide ideation. He or she may also have suicidal behavior — a focus on doing things that can cause his or her death. It is important to remember that suicidal thoughts and behaviors are not the natural reaction to serious life stresses.

Actions and signs of danger that should not be ignored may include:

  • Thinking about or an unusual preoccupation with suicide
  • Fleeting thoughts, to extensive thoughts, to detailed planning of suicide
  • Role playing or possibly incomplete attempts of suicide

If you believe that your child is having suicidal thoughts, first talk with your child and directly ask. If they are having these thoughts, follow up immediately with a healthcare professional to get help and support for the child and the entire family.

Cutting and Self-harming Behavior

Self-harming is when a person hurts themselves on purpose. Also, termed self-mutilation, self-harm or self-abuse. It is usually by doing something that will not cause them to die. The most common ways to self-harm are:

  • Cutting
  • Scratching the skin
  • Hair pulling
  • Burning
  • Hitting head or head banging
  • Interfering with wound healing
  • Inserting objects into body openings

Youth who self-harm generally say that they do it to cope with painful feelings or to feel something when they are numb.

Altered Mental Status (Psychosis)

Although not very common, altered mental status or psychosis can occur in childhood, most often in teenage years. Children facing altered mental status can report any of the following:

  • Seeing people and objects that are not actually there
  • Hearing voices, music or other sounds that are not real
  • Beliefs of threats and other situations that family and friends do not remember happening
  • Responding in a way that doesn’t make sense or trouble talking
  • Unusual or unpredictable behavior

Once these symptoms start, teens also can have sudden unexplained changes in sleep, changes in friendships, and struggles in school.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD affects different kids in different ways: some children may be able to function relatively well with minimal treatment, while others may need more extensive care to manage their symptoms. If left untreated, ADHD can lead to significant problems, including:

  • Failure at school
  • Injuries and accidents
  • Substance abuse and other risky behaviors
  • Difficult relationships with parents and peers
  • Poor self-esteem

The good news is that ADHD responds well to a combination of behavioral modification and medication. Early detection and intervention will enhance your child’s growth and development, and improve her quality of life in the long term.

Anxiety Disorders

All children experience anxiety. In fact, some anxiety can help children make safe choices (not cross the street without looking both ways) and perform well (study before a big test). Anxiety is concerning when it no longer protects the child, and instead gets in the way of their ability to function in a healthy way. For example, children experiencing problematic anxiety may:

  • Avoid participation in certain activities
  • Complain of frequent aches and pains
  • Have difficulty sleeping
  • Have trouble focusing in school

When experiencing intense anxiety, there is no one way that children react.  Because children often do not have the language to describe how they are feeling, children may outwardly display symptoms of anxiety through:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Intense anger
  • Sometimes smaller children report seeing “scary” people or things when confronted with a situation that increases their anxiety

Treatment for anxiety disorders usually includes therapy, medication, or a combination of both. The most common and successful form of therapy used to treat anxiety disorders is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).