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Common Mental Illnesses in Children

In children, mental disorders are described as serious changes in the way a child typically learns, behaves, or handles their emotions. These changes could lead to distress and problems getting through their everyday life.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 10-20% of children worldwide experience mental disorders/illnesses, and these children are known to go through discrimination, stigmatization and isolation in the society. In Nigeria, little or no attention is paid to mental health in children.

Many children occasionally have problems like fears and worries or exhibit disruptive behaviours, and if these problems are severe, persistent, and interfere with school, home or play activities, the child may be diagnosed with a mental disorder. Symptoms of mental disorders in children change over time as they grow and may include difficulties with how they play, learn, speak, act and handle their emotions.

Although these symptoms often start in early childhood, some may develop during teenage years. However, some mental illnesses in children would go unrecognised or undiagnosed

The following are common mental disorders that can be diagnosed in childhood are:

· Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD),

· Anxiety disorder,

· Depression,

· Pica eating disorder,

· Conduct disorder (CD),

· Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD),

· Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),

· Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD),

· Paediatric Bipolar Disorder,

· Autism Spectrum Disorder,

· Tourette syndrome,

· Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.

In this post we would be exploring signs and symptoms of anxiety disorder and depression.

Anxiety disorder

It is quite normal for children from time to time to feel worried but when a child does not outgrow these fears and worries or when they nurse so many fears and worries that they interfere with their school, home, or play activities, it could be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorder in children is characterised by irritability, anger, trouble sleeping, fatigue, stomach aches or headaches, difficulty concentrating, poor eating habits, tearfulness just to name a few. There are different types of anxiety disorders and some of which include

1. Social anxiety (Being very afraid of school and other places where there are people),

2. Selective mutism (a type of social anxiety in which young kids who normally talk with their family don't speak in public, like at school.),

3. Separation anxiety (Being very afraid when away from parents),

4. Panic disorder (Having regular sudden attacks of unexpected, intense fear that are usually accompanied by having trouble breathing, heart pounding, feeling dizzy, sweaty),

5. Phobias (Having extreme fear about a specific thing or situation),

6. General anxiety (Being extremely worried about the future and about bad things happening)

Management: Anxiety disorders can be managed by simply talking to your child about their anxiety or worries. Many children at different stages in their life may have anxieties that will go away after a while, with your reassurance. However, it is a better idea to seek professional help if your child is constantly anxious and it is affecting their day to day activities.


Depression, generally defined as being sad or feeling hopeless. However, some children feel sad or uninterested in things that they used to enjoy or feel helpless or hopeless in situations they are unable to change. When children continually feel sad and hopeless, they may be diagnosed with depression.

Depression is mainly seen as an adult disorder or illness because it is associated with feelings of sadness or lack of accomplishment, but children can also be depressed. Depression, also known as clinical depression, is a mood disorder characterized by feelings of anger, sadness or loss. It affects how you feel, act and think. In children, depression is more characterized by irritability and anger other than sadness like in adults. Signs of depression in children may include withdrawal from social activities, continuous feeling of sadness, changes in sleep pattern, changes in appetite, crying, fatigue, thoughts of death or suicide and so on.

The question then is, how can we assist children suffering depression?

Watch out for our concluding post on some other mental illnesses and ways to help children suffering these illnesses














Written by Akinloye Folashade, a psychology graduate from the University of Lagos (Unilag) with a passion for mental health and people with special needs .A mental health advocate looking to educate people on mental health illnesses especially in children and adolescents and help stop stigmatisation against those illnesses.

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