Identifying mental illness in children can be tricky for parents and health care providers. As a result, many children who could benefit from treatment don’t get the help they need in the very initial stages.
Children are different from adults. They experience an array of physical, mental, and emotional changes as they progress through their natural growth and development phases. The kids, during their growing years, are also in the process of learning how to cope with, adapt, and relate to others and the world around them.
Each kid matures at his or her own pace, and what is considered “normal” for one child, may be too slow or too fast for another.
Unfortunately, many adults (parents, guardians, and caretakers) don’t recognize the early signs and symptoms associated with mental illnesses in children. Even if they figure them out, it can still be difficult to distinguish signs of a problem from normal childhood behavior.
For these reasons, any diagnosis of a psychological illness must consider how well a child functions at school, at home, with family, and with peers, and also bring elements like the child’s age and symptoms into consideration.
Common Mental Conditions in Children
There are various types of mental disorders that can affect children and adolescents, some of them are;
- anxiety disordersChildren with this form of mental disorder respond to certain things or situations with panic and fear, along with physical signs of anxiety and nervousness, such as a rapid heartbeat and extreme sweating.
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)Children with this condition generally have challenges paying attention to or concentrating on a given task. They can’t seem to follow directions and are easily bored and frustrated with errands. They also tend to move constantly and are impulsive.
- Pervasive Development DisordersKids with Pervasive Development Disorders are often confused in their thinking and working patterns and generally have problems understanding the world around them.
- eating disordersEating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are grave, even life-threatening conditions. Children can become so preoccupied with diet and weight that they focus on little else.
- Mood DisordersVarious mood disorder such as depression and bipolar disorder can cause a child to feel persistent feelings of sadness or extreme mood swings usually intense than the normal mood swings common in many people.
- schizophreniaThis disorder in children involves distorted perceptions and vague thoughts. It also causes a child to lose touch with reality (psychosis). This mental illness in children most often appears during the late teens or early 20s.
How to find out if your child has any mental disorder/warning signs/symptoms
Some warning signs/symptoms that your child might have a mental health condition include:
- Misuse of drugs and alcohol.
- Issues dealing with day-to-day problems and activities.
- Changes in sleeping and eating habits.
- Unnecessary complaints of tiredness and physical ailments.
- Challenging your authority, missing school, robbery, or damaging public and personal property.
- Intense fear of putting on extra weight.
- Long-lasting mood swings, supported by poor appetite and thoughts of fatal death.
- Frequent flare-ups and outbursts of anger.
- Poor performance at school, such as getting low grades despite good efforts.
- Loss of interest in friends, social gatherings like picnics and birthday parties and other activities children their age usually enjoy.
- A drastic increase in time spent alone.
- Excessive overthinking and worrying or anxiety.
- Super hyperactivity.
- Persistent nightmares or night terrors followed by sweating.
- Defiance or violent behavior.
- Hearing voices or seeing things that are not there such as hallucinations.
How is mental illness in children treated?
Once the illness is diagnosed, the next step is choosing the right treatment. Although there has been a remarkable advancement in the treatment of adults with mental disorders, the treatment of children is still not as well understood. Scientists and healthcare professionals are still exploring which treatments work best for specific conditions in children. For now, most of the treatment options used for children, including many medications, are the same as those used in adults but with a slight difference in dosage and duration. The most common treatment options used include:
- MedicationThe drugs commonly used to treat mental disorders in children include antipsychotics, antidepressants, stimulants, anti-anxiety drugs, and drugs for stabilizing moods.
- psychotherapyPsychotherapy, also known as behavior therapy and communication therapy, is a way to deal with mental health concerns by talking to a psychologist or other mental health care professional. During this type of treatment, a child might learn about his or her condition, moods, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Psychotherapy can greatly help a child learn how to respond to challenging situations with healthy coping skills.
- Art TherapyThis form of therapy is used to treat ADHD, Anxiety and Depression. During this therapy, children are encouraged to draw a story on their life events. Therapists then link those colors to certain emotions such as red symbolizing rage and anger. They further analyze the drawing for themes and feelings that they discuss with the child.
- Play TherapyPlay Therapy is primarily used to treat mental disorders such ODD, ADHD, Anxiety, and Depression in children between the age group of 3 to 12 years. This form of therapy involves a non-threatening form of communication in which toys represent words. During this form of therapy, children are engaged in storytelling. The therapist closely observes feelings, emotions, and recurring themes, while challenging the child with more effective alternatives to replace any disturbing behavior.
How to deal with them
Your child needs your support and assistance now more than ever. After a child is diagnosed with a mental health condition, parents and children commonly experience a gush of feelings like helplessness, anger, and frustration. Consult your child’s mental health care professional for advice on how to change the way you think and interact with your child, as well as how to handle difficult behavior and mood swings.
Look for ways to relax and have fun with your child. Introduce mind games to him or her. Praise his or her strengths and abilities. Discover new stress management techniques, which might help you understand how to calmly respond to difficult and stressful situations.
It’s good to seek family counseling or the help of support groups, too. It’s important for you and other family members to understand your child’s illness and his or her feelings, and also what all of you can do to help your child.
To see your child progressing in school, inform your child’s teachers and the school counselor that your child has a mental health condition. If necessary, sit and work with the school staff to develop an academic plan that meets your child’s specific needs.
If you are worried about your child’s mental health condition, don’t hesitate to seek help and advice out of shame, embarrassment or fear. With adequate support, you can find out whether your child has a mental health condition and explore appropriate treatment options to help them live a full life.
Usually, mental illnesses in children are caused by a combination of factors and cannot be stopped. However, if warning signs are recognized well in time and treatment is started early, many of the stressful and disabling effects of a mental disorder may be prevented or at least minimized to some extent before its too late.