For this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re sharing about children’s mental health. Mental health is a very important part of a child’s overall health because it affects the child’s ability to be successful at school and in society. So, we’re answering some of the most commonly asked questions about children’s mental health.
How many children are affected by mental illness?
According to the U.S. Surgeon General, around 20% of U.S. children suffer from a mental illness during a given year. Also, approximately 5 million U.S. children and youth suffer from a serious mental illness that considerably interferes with their normal daily functions. Children are able to develop the same mental health issues present in adults, but sometimes their symptoms differ. Common mental illnesses in children are anxiety disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), developmental disorders, depression, and eating disorders. But, children can also have mood disorders or schizophrenia.
What are the warning signs of mental disorders in children?
Warning signs of a mental disorder vary because each child is unique. However, it is critical to be able to differentiate between normal behavior changes and those that are linked with more serious issues. Here are some symptoms that may be warning signs your child may have mental health issues
- Sudden changes in school performance, despite hard work
- Difficulty concentrating
- Unexpected weight loss
- Unreasonably frequent complaints about headaches and stomachaches
- Having a negative mood for a long period of time, often including a poor appetite
- Frequent temper tantrums or outbursts of anger
- Self-destructive behavior like head-banging or even thoughts of death
- Unable to cope with normal daily problems and/or activities
- Excessive worry or anxiety
- No longer interested in the activities they enjoyed or being with their friends
- Hallucinations or continuous nightmares
- Persistent aggressive behavior or disobedience to parents and/or higher authority
What affects children’s mental health?
Similar to adults with mental illnesses, the exact causes for children with mental disorders are unknown. According to research, a combination of factors affects the possibility of mental illness. Genetics or heredity can be one reason. Children with parents or grandparents who suffer from a mental disorder are more likely to develop a mental disorder.
Biology can also play a factor in developing a mental illness. Trauma whether it’s physical, emotional, or sexual abuse can be a factor, as well. Other traumatic situations like an important loss of a parent or sibling and/or neglect both physically and emotionally can really affect a child.
Where can I get help for my child?
Diagnosing a child with mental illness is difficult because development really differs from child to child. Also, young children without large vocabularies may have a hard time expressing themselves and their feelings. However, that’s why it’s important to consult your child’s doctor as well as speak to anyone who is involved in your child’s life – teachers, relatives, and close friends – to gain more insight.
If your child seems to have a mental illness, your child needs to be evaluated by a medical specialist like a psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health counselor, or behavioral therapist. They will look into your child’s behavior and also look for other possible causes by looking at your child’s medical history and possibility of trauma.
What treatments are available?
There are quite a few treatments available for your child to improve their mental health. One is psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy or behavior therapy. A psychologist or specialist will try to address the child’s mental health concerns by talking with them. During this time, the child may be able to learn more about his or her feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. The psychologist will also help the child learn healthy coping skills in order to respond to difficult situations better.
Another form of treatment is medication, including anti-anxiety medications, stimulants, antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers. These medications help balance the chemical imbalance in the brain that is thought to be a cause of the mental illness. Other creative therapies like art therapy or play therapy may be especially good for young children who have difficulty expressing their feelings and thoughts. Some children may benefit from one type of therapy, and other children may benefit from a combination of treatments.
How can I help my child cope with mental health issues?
As a parent, sometimes you may feel helpless, hopeless, or frustrated that you can’t solve your child’s issue. It’s normal and common to feel that way, but don’t give up! Your child needs your help to overcome his or her mental illness. Here are some helpful tips to care for your child:
- Have fun with your child and do things he/she enjoys
- Encourage your child by recognizing his or her strengths
- Try attending support groups for parents and/or families for your own support
- Learn healthy coping strategies so that you will be able to respond calmly to stressful situations
- Let your child’s teachers and school counselor know your child’s conditions so that they can cater to his or her needs for a better school environment.
At the Holiner Psychiatric Group, our specialists are experienced at diagnosing and treating children and adolescents with a wide range of mental health issues. If you are concerned that your child may be suffering from mental health issues, please call us at (972)566-4591 or fill out a contact form.