Kids and mental health
Are you concerned about the mental health of your child or a child you know? Or are you a kid looking for help?
Find out what some common mental health issues in kids are, why good mental health is important for children and what can be done to help.
Why is kids' mental health important?
Having good mental health is key to the healthy development and wellbeing of every child. Kids need good mental health - not only to be able to deal with challenges and adapt to change, but so they can feel good about themselves, build healthy relationships with others and enjoy life.
A kid’s mental health can be influenced by many things, like family circumstances, school life and life events. While children can experience mental health issues at any age, they are most at risk between the ages of 12 and 16 years.
If your child, or a child you know, is having mental health issues, the best thing you can do is get them some help, before it gets worse - see 'Where to get help' below.
Mental health issues in children
Everyone feels sad, angry or upset sometimes, including children. But if a kid feels like this most of the time, it’s a sign they may need help. Other signs include difficulty coping, getting on with others or staying interested in activities.
Kids can struggle with a range of issues as they grow up. Some of the common mental health-related issues they experience include:
- relationship problems (for example family, peers)
- eating or body-image issues
- bullying (including cyberbullying)
- abuse (physical, emotional or sexual)
- feeling sad or depressed
- worry or anxiety
- self-harm or suicide
About 1 in 7 children and adolescents aged 4 to 17 have recently experienced a mental health disorder in Australia. The most common disorder is ADHD, followed by anxiety, depression and conduct disorder.
The number of contacts to Kids Helpline increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of these contacts were about mental health and emotional well-being.
If you think your child has a mental health issue, it’s important to reach out for professional help.
How can I improve kids' mental health?
There are plenty of things that can be done to improve mental health and help prevent mental health issues from developing. For example, getting enough sleep, eating well and doing regular physical activity is important for children, just as it is for adults.
Long-lasting and safe and secure relationships, such as with the child’s family (including extended family and carers), are considered the most influential factors in a child’s life. Mental health difficulties in children might present as frequent or intense struggles with their emotions, their thoughts, behaviours, learning or relationships.
As a parent or concerned adult, there are some simple steps you can take to support a child’s mental health. These are things like taking an active interest in the child, encouraging them to talk about what’s happening in their life and being aware of changes in their behaviour. Seek support from your doctor or other health or mental health professional if you are concerned.
Where to get help
If you’d like to find out more, or talk to someone, here are some organisations that can help:
- Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (telephone and online counselling for ages 5-25)
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- Call Parentline in your state or territory for counselling and support for parents and carers
- eheadspace to chat online
- SANE Australia (people living with a mental illness and their carers) — call 1800 18 7263
- ReachOut.com (youth mental health service) — visit the website for info or use the online forum
- Raising Healthy Minds app is a free app with evidence-based information to help parents or carers with the wellbeing of their child
- Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 — call or chat online with a trained mental health professional
- Head to Health - for advice, assessment and referral into local mental health services - call 1800 595 212 from 8:30am to 5pm on weekdays (public holidays excluded)
You can also ask your family doctor for advice or consult a psychologist if you would like more information or mental health resources for kids.
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Last reviewed: November 2021