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Child Psychiatry

Child Psychiatry

If your child or adolescent is struggling in school, acting out, rebellious, inattentive, sad and lonely, forgetful, disorganized, or hanging out with the wrong crowd, you may think it’s just normal growing pains and hope they will grow out of it. Many kids and teens do grow out of troublesome behavior and emotional problems, but not all of them do. When your child or adolescent’s troubling symptoms and behaviors persist and negatively impact their schoolwork, friendships, and home life, it’s time to seek help.


It can be difficult for parents to know if the problems your children are having are just a phase or if they’re signs of something more serious. Some of the many red flags that could indicate your child is suffering from a mental health condition include:

  • Sudden changes: Be aware of any inexplicable deviation from your child’s normal routine, moods, energy levels, behaviors, or school performance.
  • School struggles: Ongoing academic troubles can be due to behavioral issues or attention problems.
  • Anger issues: Frequent temper tantrums, aggression, or defiance are red flags.
  • Fears and worries: Children who have overwhelming concerns that interfere with their ability do things or that undermine their performance at school may have anxiety.
  • Relationship issues: Difficulty making friends or trouble connecting with others may be a warning sign of a deeper problem.
  • Mood issues: This can include consistently low moods, crankiness, and a lack of interest in pleasurable activities or extreme mood swings.
  • Repetitive actions: Some kids have physical tics or vocalizations, or they repetitively check things and get upset if they aren’t in the right order.
  • Physical pain: Frequent complaints about body aches, headaches, upset stomach with no known cause
  • Sleep issues: Sleeping too much or having trouble staying asleep through the night is associated with several mental health conditions.
  • Weight loss/weight gain: Avoiding eating, using laxatives, or vomiting may be signs of an eating disorder. Overeating can be a sign of using food to self-medicate bad feelings.
  • Substance use: Some adolescents smoke, drink alcohol, or use drugs as a way to self-medicate.
  • Delusions: Hearing or seeing things others can’t see or hear is a red flag behavior that needs to be investigated.
  • Self-harm: Children and teens who injure themselves or engage in risky behavior need help.
  • Suicidal thoughts: Suicide is the second leading cause of death among children and young adults ages 10-24, so if a child or teen is talking about suicide, it needs to be taken very seriously.

If your child or adolescent is experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to seek an evaluation.


The most commonly diagnosed conditions among kids and teens are ADD/ADHD, behavioral problems, anxiety, and depression. According to the latest statistics from the CDC, the number of youngsters diagnosed with these conditions and the number who took their own lives are:

Other conditions that affect children and teens include bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), eating disorders, PANDAS, PTSD, Tourette syndrome, schizophrenia, aggression, and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Be aware that it is not unusual for children to have more than one condition. For example, nearly 2 out of 3 youngsters diagnosed with ADD/ADHD also have one or more other mental health condition. About half of all kids with ADD/ADHD also have a behavior problem or conduct disorder, and about 1 in 3 have anxiety. If your child shows multiple signs and symptoms, it could mean that co-occurring disorders are at work.


Half of children and adolescents in the U.S. with mental health disorders don’t receive treatment, according to a 2019 study in JAMA Pediatrics. Untreated mental illness as a child or teen can have debilitating lifelong consequences. For example, untreated ADD/ADHD increases the risk of depression, drug abuse, obesity, smoking, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Mental health problems interfere with school performance, work performance, and relationships. Allowing a child’s symptoms to go unchecked can increase the chances of school failure, limit their opportunities to go to college, hamper their ability to get the job they want, and set them up for relationships filled with strife.

Because young brains are still developing until a person’s mid-20s, untreated problems can alter brain development. This can lead to lasting negative changes in how the brain functions.

At Amen Clinics, we see many adults who say their symptoms emerged during childhood, but they (or their parents) didn’t seek treatment at the time. By the time they seek our help, they often have troubles in every area of their lives and deeply regret that they didn’t get relief earlier.


For young people, getting diagnosed and starting treatment early can be more effective and can help prevent long-term issues—provided they’ve been properly diagnosed and they’re on the right treatment plan! Unfortunately, many of the conditions affecting kids and teens can be misdiagnosed. In part, this is because traditional psychiatry, including child psychiatry, continues to make diagnoses based primarily on symptom clusters, and so many of the symptoms associated with mental health issues overlap.

This is why it is so important to look at the brain with SPECT imaging to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.


Our brain imaging work at Amen Clinics shows that “mental health” conditions in children and teens are actually “brain health” conditions. One of the most exciting neuroimaging findings is that conditions like ADD/ADHD, depression, and anxiety aren’t simple or single disorders. We have identified specific brain patterns associated with 7 types of ADD/ADHD and 7 types of anxiety and depression.

Here are some of the brain patterns associated with some of the most common disorders in young people.

  • ADD/ADHD: Ideally, when we concentrate, blood flow should increase in the brain, especially in the prefrontal cortex (an area involved in impulse control, planning, organization, and follow through). This increased activity allows us to focus, stay on task, and think ahead. In the brains of most children and teens with ADD/ADHD, however, blood flow actually goes down when they concentrate, making it harder to stay focused. In other words, the harder these kids try, the harder it gets!
  • Anxiety: Excessive nervousness and anxiety is generally due to increased activity in the basal ganglia (a region involved with motivation, pleasure, and smoothing motor movements).
  • Depression: Negativity and depression are often associated with an overactive limbic system (a part of the brain that is involved with emotions, bonding, and nesting).

Because many conditions have multiple subtypes, when it comes to diagnosis and treatment, one size does NOT fit all. Treatment that works for one child won’t work for every child, and it could even make some of them worse!


Since 1989, Amen Clinics has helped thousands of children and adolescents improve focus and attention, reduce anxiety and depression, overcome behavioral issues, and more.

With the world’s largest database of functional brain scans — 150,000 and growing — from patients from all 50 states and 120 countries, our Child and Adolescent Psychiatry specialists are better able to distinguish conditions and identify co-occurring conditions. With a more accurate diagnosis, we are able to tailor a more targeted treatment plan. We believe in using the least toxic, most effective strategies for children and teens. This may include natural supplements, nutrition, exercise, helpful forms of therapy, and medication (when necessary)—all personalized for your child’s specific needs.

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