Recognizing Mental Health Problems in Children

Recognizing Mental Health Problems in Children

Mental health problems among children are real, especially after the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic. Not many parents seek professional diagnosis or treatment, though. Untreated mental health issues may disrupt a child’s academic achievement and social life in school. They also tend to have a higher risk for substance use disorder when approaching adolescence.

Parents are in the ideal place to notice symptoms such as anxiety, compulsion, overly-aggressive behaviors, or emotional distress. Sometimes, a child’s mental health issues can be attributed to traumatic experiences at home, such as neglect and abuse. In these cases, other caregivers and educators need to be aware of these issues when observing a child and their interactions with peers.

Symptoms of Mental Illnesses in Children

Mental illness refers to patterns in thinking, feeling, or behaving that disrupt a person’s ability to function. This can happen to anyone, including children and adolescents. Those who have mental health problems might display signs of constant worry, anxiety, persistent sadness, persistent aggression, sleep deprivation due to nightmares, social isolation or withdrawal, an inability to sit still or focus, or a decline in school performance. Children with mental health disorders often have delays in age-appropriate thinking, social skills, or emotional regulation.

More specifically, anxiety disorders among children include symptoms such as persistent fears, worries, or anxiety that disrupt their ability to participate in social life. Most children have a fear of separation or new adventures, but that normal kind of fear can go away after coaching or experiencing new things. Anxiety disorders are distinct from these normal fears among children in that they may become debilitating.

Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism may develop impulsive behaviors or even aggression. Bipolar disorder in children also shows up in extreme mood swings between depression and extreme emotional highs. Other diagnosable mental health problems in children include PTSD and schizophrenia.

Parents’ Duty in Getting Their Children Diagnosed and Treated

Parents who are concerned about their child’s mental health should consult their child’s pediatrician. Before this, they might need to talk with the child’s teachers, close friends, or other caregivers to see if they have similar concerns. With the doctor, parents can describe the behaviors that concern them and get feedback.

For a more accurate diagnosis, the doctor might refer the child to be evaluated by a specialist, such as a psychiatrist. The evaluation or assessment process usually includes a complete medical exam, history of physical or emotional trauma, family history of mental health, a timeline of the child’s developmental progress, and interviews with parents.

Diagnosing mental illness in children often takes longer than parents expect because a child may not be able to express their feelings to a satisfactory extent to medical professionals. This is a learning process for parents as well as the child and the doctor. If a parent is especially concerned about the presence of mental illness and needs support, family counseling might be a good option.

Talking with Children about Mental Health Problems

All parents should encourage their children to talk about their feelings, and the parent should really listen to what they are saying. When parents listen and show that they understand, it can be a source of comfort to the child even if they are struggling with difficult emotions. Below are a few practical talking points for parents to try:

  • Tell the child that the parent has noticed their sadness, anxiousness, or difficulty focusing. Ask why and how that feels. Explain that these struggles are part of life, and grown-ups feel them too from time to time. Accept their feelings and don’t judge whether they are good or bad.
  • Remind the child about the many beautiful and fun things in life that can help remedy their difficult feelings. Validate their feelings and ask if there are things that help them deal with them. 
  • Share with the child that keeping emotions and thoughts inside themselves can be lonely and scary. Talking about them with a grown-up may help them feel better. 
  • Children need to know their parents are safe people they can share hard things with. Parents should remind their children of this and even make a way for the child to let the parent know they need to discuss something so they feel comfortable doing so.

Sometimes bullying at school can also contribute to a child’s low mood. Some children may fall prey to sexual abuse by acquaintances or relatives. Find out whether the child’s emotions are due to any traumatic events. The most important thing is for the parent to be present in a child’s life, and to know what is happening in the child’s emotional world.

Mental health does not just concern adults. Children can also suffer from mental illnesses. Some of them (like teens and adolescents) may become more susceptible to substance use due to mental illness. Parents and educators need to know how to identify signs of mental health conditions among children. Because of the unique needs of each condition, working with a professional is always a good idea. If you are looking for a recovery-supportive community staffed with trusted health professionals, look no further than Laguna Shores Recovery. Here, our licensed mental healthcare professionals and therapists can coach people of all age groups through recovery from a range of mental health conditions. When you come to our medical and residential facility, your needs will be served by a range of treatments, including diagnosis, behavioral therapies, 12-step programs, and treatment plans. Early intervention is key, so call us at (866) 906-3203. Help is right here.