Why It Matters: Disorders of Childhood and Adolescense

Why learn about disorders of childhood and adolescence?

Childhood mental and developmental disorders encompass neurodevelopmental, emotional, and behavioral disorders that have broad and serious adverse impacts on psychological and social well-being. Children with these disorders typically require significant additional support from families and the educational system.

barbed wire surrounding a jail

Figure 1. Children with mental health and developmental disorders are more likely to experience a compromised developmental trajectory, with an increased need for medical and disability services as well as increased risk of contact with law enforcement agencies.

Childhood mental and developmental disorders are an emerging challenge to health care systems globally. Two contributing factors are the increases in the proportion of children and adolescents in the populations of low- to middle-income countries, which is a result of reduced mortality of children under age five years and the fact that the onset of many adult mental and developmental disorders occurs in childhood and adolescence.

The consequences of these disorders include the impact during childhood and the persistence of mental ill-health into adult life. In childhood, the impact is broad, encompassing the individual suffering of children, as well as the potential negative effects on their families and peers. This impact may include aggression toward other children and the distraction of peers from learning. These children are at higher risk of mental and physical health problems in adulthood, as well as increased likelihood of unemployment, contact with law enforcement agencies, and need for disability support.

Child maltreatment is a well-established risk factor for mental and developmental disorders in children, including any form of physical or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, or commercial or other exploitation that results in actual or potential harm to a child’s health, survival, development, or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust, or power. Legislation to address child maltreatment requires the support of well-integrated systems that increase public awareness and enable incident reporting to a constituted authority with investigative and interventional expertise and the ability to prosecute.

Children are our future and we have a responsibility to protect the next generation by ensuring their survival—not simply their physical well-being, but their emotional and mental health as well.