Early Childhood Mental Health Concerns

In BC, it is estimated that 15% of children and youth have a diagnosable mental illness. However, we do not collect consistent national data on childhood mental health concerns and very little under the age of 4. In addition, we do not collect statistics on early intervention.

The impact of poor mental health on a child’s, youth’s and adult’s life is heightened when the problems begin in early childhood. In fact, many childhood mental health issues persist into adolescence and adulthood.

The following list of diagnosable clinical disorders that has been compiled using the DC: 0-3R, Diagnostic Classification of Mental Health and Developmental Disorders of Infancy and Early Childhood, Revised Edition (2005). It is important to note that some clinicians choose to use the DSM-IV-TR Casebook and Treatment Guide for Child Mental Health (2009). The DC:0-3R is unique in that it views the child within his or her relationships and caregiving environment.

Clinical Disorders:
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Deprivation or Maltreatment Disorder
  • Disorders of Affect
  • Prolonged Bereavement/ Grief Reaction
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Depression
  • Mixed Disorder of Emotional Expressiveness
  • Adjustment Disorder
  • Regulation Disorders of Sensory Processing
  • Hypersensitive
  • Hyposensitive/Under-responsive
  • Sensory Stimulation-Seeking/ Impulsive
  • Sleep Behavior Disorder
  • Feeding Behavior Disorder
  • Disorders of Relating and Communicating

Early Indicators

Mental health disorders in young children may be hard to detect as children may be unable to put into words their emotional distress. More frequently physical complaints and social behaviors are indicators that there may be a problem. Cohen, Onunaku, Clothier & Poppe (2005) developed the following table outlining behaviors in infants and young children that warrant concern and further intervention.

Early Warning Signs in Early Childhood

Infants and Toddlers (birth to age 3)
  • Chronic feeding and sleeping difficulties
  • Inconsolable “fussiness” or irritability
  • Incessant crying with little ability to be consoled
  • Extremely upset when left with another adult
  • Inability to adapt to new situations
  • Easily startled or alarmed by routine events
  • Inability to establish relationships with other children or adults
  • Excessive hitting, biting, and pushing of other children and withdrawal behavior
  • Flat affect
Preschoolers (age 3 to 5)
  • Engages in compulsive activity (e.g., head banging)
  • Throws wild, despairing tantrums
  • Withdrawn; show little interest in social interaction
  • Displays repeated aggressive or impulsive behaviors
  • Difficulty playing with others
  • Little or no communication
  • Loss of earlier developmental achievements

Universal Assessment and Early Intervention

Universal assessment of all children and early intervention when problems are identified are the most effective ways to address early childhood mental health concerns.