The term ‘mental health’ may be scary if you are a parent. Is it really possible that my child or teenager suffers from a mental illness? How did I not notice that something was wrong? Was my teen displaying signs that I did not recognize? Has my little one been experiencing these issues for years? You are a parent, not a mental health professional. How could you possibly have known that their mental health was in jeopardy?
The worry for parents begins from the moment of conception. Will the baby be born with 10 fingers and 10 toes? Will he walk and talk on time? How will she do in kindergarten? Will they be able to handle the mean kids in school? What about drugs and alcohol? Oh, no – we have to have THE talk! Among all of the worries, you probably never included mental illness in any of your thoughts.
Unfortunately, mental health issues in children and teens are more common than you may think. The possibility that your child may have to deal with a mental disorder could be terrifying but rest assured that you are not alone in your worry. Millions of other concerned parents like you did not originally worry about mental illness when they first began their journey through parenthood yet it is a reality that many must face. The trained professionals at Beachside Treatment Center will be there for you to determine the appropriate diagnosis and treatment plan for your child of any age.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, mental illness manifests in children of varying ages. While younger children are more prone to be diagnosed with ADHD and behavioral disorders, mental illness may manifest itself as depression and anxiety in teenagers. Let’s take a look at some numbers:
- 9.4% (or 6.1 million) of children between 2 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD.
- 7.4% (or 4.5 million) of children between 3 and 17 have been diagnosed as having behavior problems
- 7.1% (4.4 million) of children between 3 and 17 have been diagnosed with anxiety
- 3.2% (1.9 million) of children between 3 and 17 have been diagnosed with depression
At each age, children’s signs and symptoms vary and will change as a child’s body and mind grow and develop. As a parent, this is where connecting with your child and understanding their behavior and personalities is beneficial. Of course, normal childhood development brings along with it a lot of change, many of which are new and unique to each child. However, since no one knows your child better than you, you will notice the first signs that something is not right and that they may be experiencing mental health challenges.
Things to look for in children (3 – 12) as signs of a mental health issue:
- Sadness that lasts longer than usual. Sadness is a common, healthy emotion that is stirred up when a child loses a favorite toy or cannot have dessert. Persistent sadness that lasts for a week or two should be cause for concern.
- If your active, social child suddenly seems to be shy, reserved, and avoids social interaction, this may be a sign that they may be experiencing a mental health issue.
- Younger children who have not yet learned how to properly express their emotions tend to have occasional outbursts of emotion and even anger. When these outbursts are frequent, prolonged, and uncontrollable, you may want to seek the advice of their pediatrician.
- Mental illness in young children may manifest in physical signs such as headaches and stomachs. This is a way for their body to alert them (and you) that something is not right and that further investigation is warranted. Although it may not be a direct indication of a mental health issue, it should prompt a call to the doctor.
- Children’s eating habits change often and erratically as they progress through various stages. One day they like vegetables and the next day they do not. Today your elementary school loves pizza and tomorrow his favorite is peanut butter and jelly. These changes are common. However, it is when your child suddenly loses interest in eating or can’t stop that there should be cause for concern. Even if eating habits have not changed, sudden changes in weight gain or loss should be noted and discussed with your pediatrician.
- Children are testing the boundaries of what they can and cannot do and how far you will let them roam. When the behavior becomes harmful to themselves or others or is exceptionally erratic, this may be a sign that your child is suffering from a mental health issue.
If you have noticed any of these signs in your young child and suspect that mental health may be an issue, contact your pediatrician. Through a series of questions and an examination, they will determine if further evaluation is warranted and refer you to a mental health professional like those at Beachside Treatment Center for diagnosis and a treatment plan if necessary.
Things to look for in teenagers (12 – 18) as signs of a mental health issue:
While each illness has its own telltale signs, it is important to recognize the changes in behavior that may be a sign that a mental health issue may be lurking in your teenager’s brain. As in younger children, their developing minds and bodies change regularly and it may be difficult to notice some changes but the following are some of the things to look for in your teenager.
- Excessive sadness for an extended period. Teenagers naturally experience extreme mood swings as their hormones stretch and pull their bodies in a wide variety of directions. But any emotion to the extreme should be cause for concern.
- Teens may not necessarily think logically all of the time as their brains are not fully developed yet. However, confusion and a lack of focus may be signs that their brain is battling with its mental health.
- Most teenagers are by nature social creatures. If your teenager usually craves social interaction with friends and teammates and suddenly no longer wants any connection, this should be a warning sign that something may be awry.
- The growing and developing body of a teen requires a lot of sleep. However, changes in their sleep habits may be cause for concern. Although they may be sleeping often and for long periods, they may wake up feeling sluggish and exhausted.
- Just as younger children may experience physical ailments, mental health issues in teenagers could also manifest in the form of headaches, stomach aches, strange aches, and pains.
- As teenagers battle with being in between childhood and adulthood, they tend to worry and become fearful of their future. Excessive worry though could be a sign of anxiety or depression in your teenager.
- Changes in eating habits such as loss of appetite or increased hunger should be noted.
- Teenagers are curious. They experience peer pressure and they want to feel grown up. They also may want to mask some of the feelings and thoughts that they are experiencing and may be drawn to try drugs and alcohol. When use turns to abuse, there may be an underlying mental health issue that is luring them to substances.
As with any of these signs and symptoms, each one alone may not be cause for concern. However, if multiple symptoms are noted, it is time to reach out to your teen’s pediatrician for further evaluation.
Mental health issues in children and teens manifest differently and therefore require different evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment. If you suspect that your child or teenager is experiencing a mental health issue, you must reach out to their pediatrician with your concerns. They will conduct a physical examination to rule out any type of physical medical condition and refer you to a mental health professional.
Treatment for mental health issues also varies depending on the age group of the child. For younger children, diagnosing mental illness may be more difficult as they have more difficulty verbally expressing their feelings or understanding their behavior. Treatment may include psychotherapy or talk therapy in the form of playtime, games, and fun activities. Children will learn how to talk about their thoughts and feelings and how to cope and manage their emotions. Depending upon the diagnosis, some therapists may recommend medication such as stimulants, anti-depressants, or mood stabilizers.
While teenagers may still have difficulty expressing or identifying their feelings and emotions, they are naturally better able to communicate. Treatment for teenagers may include out-patient or in-patient therapy, group therapy, medication, or a variety of other types of therapy to help them manage and develop appropriate coping mechanisms. If required, your teen’s therapist may recommend medication to quiet some of the thoughts and feelings that could be disrupting the healing process.
Mental health issues, like many medical conditions, are treatable and your child can fully recover and learn to manage their symptoms with therapy, medication, and guidance. However, it is not something that you can do on your own as a parent. While you do your best to teach, guide and instruct your child to become a productive adult, mental health issues are not treatable at home and require the attention and assistance of professionals like those at Beachside Treatment Center.
If you suspect that your child of any age is experiencing a mental health issue, reach out today to get them the help that they need to fully recover and live the life that they are destined for. Remember that you are not alone in this journey and support is available for you and your family as well as you navigate this unchartered territory as a parent.