Children’s Mental Health: What to Know

While children may not be the most vocal people regarding mental health, they are quite often the most affected. 1 in 5 children suffers from a mental health disorder at some point during their life. However, not all mental disorders are outwardly visible, and a child may still appear normal. That’s why it’s important to know how you can recognize signs of a child’s mental health disorder and get help for them.

As adults, we often find it difficult to understand young people’s emotions. However, having a greater understanding of child development can help. Monitoring your child’s mental health is key to understanding their needs. It’s a well-known fact that children’s emotional development continually changes as they get older. Often, that development can be negatively affected by things like stress, poverty, and abuse. Having a child with emotional or behavioral problems can be challenging, but the good news is that children’s mental health can be treated. If you’re a parent or caregiver, you can take steps to help your child overcome their problems.

What is a mental illness?

As defined by the DSM-IV, a mental illness is a disabling condition that interferes with a person’s ability to function or handle daily activities. The DSM-5, the standard reference for mental health professionals, defines mental illness as a disorder that significantly interferes with an individual’s thinking, feeling, mood, or ability to relate to others.

Mental health issues are common among children, ranging from mild to severe. The 2017-2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 9.6 percent of children ages 12-17 had a diagnosable mental disorder in the previous 12 months. While it’s not surprising to learn that mental health issues are common, it’s important to know what causes them and what to look for so you can spot the signs of mental health disorders early.

Mental Health: Barriers in Treating Children

Mental health issues can strike anyone at any time. They influence every aspect of life—from how children behave at school to how successful they are later in life. The good news is that increasing awareness and access to treatment are helping children become more resilient to mental health problems. Sometimes, however, the lack of confidence children feels about their ability to learn or perform can cause them to become less emotionally responsive, leading to more severe mental health issues later in life.

Because normal childhood development is a process that involves change, it can be difficult to understand mental health disorders in children. When it comes to the symptoms of a disorder, children may not be able to explain how they are feeling or why they are acting in a particular way. If a child is suspected of having a mental illness, there may be other reasons why parents are reluctant to seek help. For example, parents may be concerned about the stigma associated with mental illness, the use of medication, and the cost or logistical challenges of treatment.

What mental health problems commonly occur in children?

Children’s mental health is a topic that has only recently gained attention—due to the increased rates of depression and anxiety among adolescents and young adults. Children’s mental health is important for several reasons, including the fact that children who have a mental illness are more likely to become pregnant or be abused and are more likely to experience problems in school or with the law as adults. Below are some common mental health problems children face:

Common disorders among children:

  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia

Common Warning Signs to watch out for

Warning signs of a mental health disorder in your child include:

  • Sadness that lasts for more than two weeks
  • Withdrawal or avoidance of social interaction
  • Self-harming or discussing self-harm
  • Deliberating on one’s own demise or suicide
  • Excessive irritability or rage outbursts
  • Harmful out-of-control behavior
  • A significant shift in the way you feel, act or behave
  • Changes in the way they eat
  • Weight loss
  • Headaches or stomach aches 
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Inability to concentrate

Possible Treatment

When your child has difficulty functioning at home or school, it may be time to consider their mental health. There are a number of conditions that may be contributing to your child’s behavior, including anxiety, depression, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Most children don’t exhibit significant problems at a young age, but as the years go on, some children become more isolated, aggressive, and withdrawn—or make poor choices in their personal lives.

Children’s mental health is an issue that’s very much in the news. Children’s mental health isn’t something to overlook or dismiss. If left untreated, it can have significant long-term effects. But, how do you know if a child or teen is experiencing mental health issues? It’s possible to get help using therapy, medication, or a combination of both. There are also support groups, online therapy, or self-help books to help children manage their mental health.

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