According to the USA’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated that 13 to 20% or up to one in five American children experience a mental disorder in a given year. A childhood mental health disorder includes all mental health disorders that begin and can be diagnosed in childhood. According to the Mayo Clinic frequent mental health disorders that are seen in childhood include: anxiety, depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorders, behavior disorders, Tourette’s syndrome, eating disorders, and substance abuse disorders. They are often diagnosed during the school years and sometimes earlier. They are treatable, backed by many evidence based interventions. Like so many issues, early intervention is key in making a difference in the life of the young person suffering from the disorder and in the family system. While intervention often occurs, sometimes warning signs and symptoms are overlooked or misinterpreted. Misunderstanding, denial, the stigma that some parents associate with mental health disorders, fear of medication, and the cost of treatment are some of the reasons children’s mental health issues go untreated.
The Mayo Clinic states that the following warning signs or flags should alert a parent or guardian to a potential problem in their child’s life:
- Mood changes. Feelings of sadness or with drawl that last a few weeks or severe mood swings that cause problems in functioning at home or at school
- Intense feelings. Overwhelming feelings of fear or worry (for no reason) that are intense enough to interfere with daily activities. Sometimes they are accompanied by a racing heart or fast breathing.
- Behavior changes. Dramatic changes in behavior or personality. Such changes may also include dangerous out of control behavior that is dangerous or violent to self or others.
- Difficulty concentrating. Either at home or school, to the point where it interferes with functioning
- Unexplained weight loss. A sudden loss of appetite, vomiting, or use of laxatives can indicate an eating disorders
- Physical harm. Suicidal thoughts or attempts, or trying to harm others
- Substance abuse. Substance use as a means of coping with problems.
If you suspect a problem with your child, consult their doctor. Also, consider consulting your child’s teachers, other school officials, coaches, caregivers, loved ones friends, etc. to see if they have noticed a change in your child’s behavior. Use this information in reporting your concerns to the doctor. The doctor will look at these reports,– these signs, symptoms, and see how they are affecting your child’s life. They may refer your child to a specialist such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, mental health worker, etc to make a complete diagnosis. Such diagnoses are made using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a guide published by the American Psychiatric Association. They are also made by evaluating and examining for other medical conditions; investigating for any possible trauma history; reviewing developmental background; talking with other involved parties, including other caregivers, teachers, etc.; and by looking at how long the reported behavioral concerns have been occurring. Once a diagnosis is made, treatment can begin. Typical options include psychotherapy (often referred to as talk-therapy or behavior therapy) and/or medication therapy.
It is important that a parent gains the support they need, so they can better support their child through this process. Ask a doctor or mental health provider how you can improve the way you interact with your child or deal with difficult behavior. Look beyond the mental health issues, and seek to relax and have fun with your child. Like any medical condition, this is not, nor do you want it to be the end all and be all of your interactions with your child. Honor their strengths and abilities. Do all you can do to understand your child’s disorder and their feelings, so you can help them be at their best. If there is a mental health condition, inform your child’s school. A special academic plan may need to be formed. Everyone’s support and understanding makes all the difference.
You may want to consider family counseling or a support group for yourself and/or your child. Like other illness and disorder, the more support one has in facing it, the better the outcome….