As of record, 17.1 million out of 74.5 million children in the United States have experienced childhood mental health problems. There are more children diagnosed with mental disorders than diabetes, cancer, and AIDS combined. This means childhood mental disorders are common as it is in adults.
Parents are finding it hard to identify if there is a presence of mental illness in children. As a result, childhood mental disorders remain undiagnosed, and the child does not get the proper help needed. If you’re worried that your child may have a mental illness, you should look for warning signs of how they act at home or in school.
What Is a Mentally Healthy Child?
A mentally healthy child is expected to behave and act the way other children their age do. This means the child can play well with other kids, can communicate with other children their age, and as they grow they are able to develop problem-solving skills. In short, a mentally healthy child functions well at home, school, and with other kids their age.
On the contrary, children with mental illness may act the opposite. There can be changes in their behavior, do not act the same way as other children their age do, or maybe awkward at school or at home.
What Are the Risk Factors of Mental Illness in Children?
The risk factors of mental disorders in children remain unknown. However, research shows that a combination of risk factors may lead to developing a child’s mental illness. It can be genetics, psychological trauma, and other environmental factors. If your child is exposed to one of these risk factors, it is best to observe signs of mental disorder.
- Genetics: Mental health disorders in children may be hereditary. When a parent or another immediate family member has a mental illness, this may also put them at risk.
- Long-term physical illness: A child with a long-term physical illness that limits their ability to enjoy their childhood like other kids their age and is prone to developing a mental health disorder. Examples of a long-term illness are cancer or a physical deformity.
- Stressful life event: When a child experiences a negative life event such as death, abuse, neglect, parents getting divorced, or poverty, this may cause stress. When stress is prolonged, it may cause the development of mental illness in children.
- Problems at school or bad experiences in the community: Kids have a higher risk of developing a mental illness if they experienced consistent abuse or neglect. These may look like bullying, discrimination, family problems, and having no friends. Their relationship to others in school, at home, or in the community can affect their mental health.
What are Common Mental Health Problems in Children?
Every parent always wants their child to be healthy and happy. When your child gets a fever or stomach ache, you worry, and that’s expected. But have you ever worried about their mental health? They may be physically healthy, but if you don’t pay extra attention to how they feel and act, you may never know that there are warning symptoms present.
Parents need to know that mental disorders can be experienced by children as much as adults do. Here are the most common mental illnesses in children.
- ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity-Disorder): ADHD is the most common mental illness in children. It’s normal to overlook this mental illness because it’s common for children to behave this way. However, you can consider consulting a mental health professional when you see that these characteristics are affecting your child’s life.
- Affective Mood Disorders: Yes, children may also go through depression; they may go through persistent feelings of sadness and mood swings.
- Anxiety Disorders: When a child reacts to a situation or someone with fear, dread, nervousness, rapid heartbeat, or sweating, this can be a sign of an anxiety disorder. You may see this in children who experienced sexual abuse, accident, or injury.
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Autism is a neurological developmental disorder usually diagnosed as early as two years old. The symptoms and severity of autism spectrum disorder vary, but a child with autism may have difficulty interacting and communicating with other kids their age.
- Disruptive Behavior Disorders: Kids with disruptive behavior disorders tend not to follow school rules or do not follow what their parents say. While it’s normal for kids to not follow certain instructions, a child with DBD persistently breaks rules.
- Eating Disorders: Children and adolescents can have eating disorders, too, the most common is PICA (eating non-food items like chalk, mud, or clay).
- Elimination Disorders: A kid may complete potty training at the age of four. An example of elimination disorders is when a kid poops or pee in inappropriate places and times.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD may be experienced during childhood because of traumatic experiences such as abuse, accident, injury, or violence. A child with PTSD experiences flashbacks of the events, nightmares, and disruptive behaviors.
- Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia may occur in children too. A kid or adolescent with schizophrenia may have distorted thoughts and perceptions (they may hear sounds that are not there).
Does My Child Have a Mental Illness?
It is normal for children to express their frustrations, get sad, get angry, or cry. As the parent, you know your child more than anyone else. If you notice that your child is acting far from the behavior you are used to, you should check these signs for the presence of mental illness.
- Children with depression may have feelings of sadness for two or more weeks
- Social withdrawal (does not want to play with other kids or doesn’t want to go to school)
- Thinking about hurting oneself or talking about suicide (a result of depression)
- Behavior that is out of control or extreme temper tantrums
- Changes in daily habits like eating (weight loss due to depression), difficulty sleeping, and school performance (if your kid has good grades and it suddenly drops, there must be something going on)
Are There Signs of Mental Illness in Your Child? What Should You Do?
The parent, school teacher, and close relatives are the people who can notice first hand if there are worrisome changes in a child’s behavior. As soon as you see signs of mental illness in your child, it is best to consult with a doctor. The doctor will recommend lab tests or medical exams to check if there are underlying health issues that may cause these symptoms.
As soon as medical issues are addressed or ruled out, you may bring your child to a mental health professional like a psychiatrist or psychologist for therapy. Children and adolescents with mental health issues may undergo treatment options like psychotherapy or may prescribe medications safe for your kid.
A friendly piece of advice for all parents: please pay extra attention to your children’s mental health. Take a time out from your busy schedule, talk to your child, explore how they feel, involve the whole family in the conversation, and let them know you’re there for them. Let our team of mental health professionals help you cope with this situation. Kentucky Counseling Center can help you ease your worries about your child’s mental health. Schedule an appointment now to know more.