Identifying the Signs of Mental Illness in Children
The health of our children is a top priority for parents. We want our kids to grow to be successful in everything life has in store for them, socially, academically and physically. Yet mental health can impact a child’s ability to lead a normal life. Identifying mental health illness in children is often left to parents and caregivers however; it can be difficult to know the warning signs.
An estimated 20%, or 1 in 5 children have been diagnosed with a mental disorder in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the most common mental illness diagnosis made in children aged 3-17 were ADHD (6.8%), behavioral or conduct problems (3.5%), anxiety (3%), depression, (2.1%). While the exact cause of mental illness is unknown, research does show that genetics, trauma, environmental stress and biology play a role.
A variety of factors can affect a child’s mental health both positively and negatively. Some general symptoms of mental illness include the following:
- Changes in school performance despite strong efforts
- Inability to cope with daily activities and problems
- Changes in sleep and/or eating habits
- Excessive anxiety
- Persistent nightmares
- Persistent disobedience or aggressive behavior
- Intense fear of gaining weight
- Persistent negative mood
- Defying authority
- Frequent temper tantrums
- Loss of interest in friends and activities they typically enjoy
- Hyperactivity or fidgeting
- Depression or sadness
Many of the symptoms listed above are considered to be a normal part of a child’s development. A red flag should be raised when any symptoms noted become persistent or last a long time. It should also be raised if they cause significant disruption to the child’s ability to function normally. It is essential for parents to watch for the signs and symptoms of mental illness and speak up as soon as early as possible.
A pediatrician can help diagnose potential mental health illness in children. This can potentially save both the child and parents years of pain. To diagnose mental illness, the doctor will perform a series of tests including a medical history and physical exam.
Mental illness can be treated in a variety of ways, however it is important for treatment to be consistent in order to be effective. Typical treatment options include medication, psychotherapy (counseling) and cognitive therapy (art or play therapy).
It is equally important for children to be nurtured in a manner that builds confidence and self-esteem.
- Encourage children to play! This should be done both with friends and parents.
- Praise children, but be specific in what you are praising them for (ie: Johnny, I really like how you helped your sister put on her shoes this morning.).
- Be honest. It can be very reassuring for children to know you have made mistakes too.
- Encourage children to strive to do their best.
- Provide appropriate guidance and discipline to ensure children understand what behaviors are unacceptable. They should also understand that they are responsible for the consequences of their actions.
- Provide a safe and secure home where the child feels loved.
If you have questions or concerns about mental illness in your child, we welcome you to contact our office. Your child’s whole health is our utmost concern.