Most parents find it fairly easy to tell when their children are unwell. If they have a fever, become very fatigued or lose their appetite, for instance, it’s reasonable to assume they might be heading for a bout of illness. Being aware of mental health issues is just as important as finding out about how physical illnesses, such as chickenpox or influenza will affect them. Fortunately, more attention is being paid to the mental health of young people than ever before, however it’s important that parents, teachers and those who care for children are aware of the symptoms and effects. Here are a few things to look out for if you’re concerned about your children’s mental wellbeing.
It’s known that parents sometimes shy away from the notion that their child might be mentally and emotionally unwell. They may be concerned about the stigma associated with mental illness and the kind of medications that may be prescribed, as well as the challenges of dealing with it. If you feel this way it’s a good idea to learn more about some of the wonderful programs for young people in need of help – check out Newport Academy’s twitter feed, for example, to find out more.
Understanding the conditions
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can appear in very young children, usually before the age of three. This serious developmental condition has a number of different symptoms, which affect a child’s ability to interact and communicate with other people. The severity and range of these symptoms varies from person to person.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can include symptoms of three kinds – your child may have difficulty paying attention, be hyperactive and prone to impulsive behavior. Some children with ADHD may have only one of these symptoms, while others may have symptoms in all the categories.
Anxiety disorders that are a persistent problem include obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), social phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a more generalized anxiety disorder. All of these can interfere with a child’s daily activities.
Although adults and children can have the same mental health issues they don’t always present with the same symptoms. For example, depression in an adult is usually manifested by sadness, whereas your child might exhibit extreme irritability.
Children and teenagers may also suffer one of the range of eating disorders. These include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and a disorder that results in binge eating. These are serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions, and you should get help immediately if you have evidence or strongly suspect that your child has become so preoccupied with food and weight that they are unable to focus on anything else.
Mood disorders include depression and also bipolar disorder. Your child may have persistent feelings of sadness or their mood may change very quickly, much more severely than the normal mood swings you may know are common in many people. The severe mental illness Schizophrenia causes psychosis, in which a child’s thought processes and emotions become so mixed up that they lose touch with reality. It most often appears in the late teenage years and during the 20s.
Spotting the symptoms
Sometimes when a child’s behavior changes it may be because they are going through a developmental stage however there are some signs to look out for if you become concerned.
You should be alert to the possibility of mental health issues if you realize your child is doing any of the following:
- Avoiding friends and family
- Attempting to self-harm or injure other children
- Experiencing more frequent mood changes
- Having more intense emotions, angry outbursts or exhibiting extreme fear
- Beginning to neglect his or her appearance
- Experiencing more difficulty concentrating as well as more problems at school
- Lacking motivation or energy
- Developing a lot of physical complaints
- Having trouble sleeping, or having a lot of nightmares
- Eating significantly more or less than usual
- Becoming obsessed with his or her appearance, shape or weight.
Finally, even if you are aware of some of the symptoms of a mental illness remember that you won’t necessarily be able to identify it immediately. This is because some reactions are typical of normal childhood behavior and also because at first you may suspect a physical health issue. It’s also the case that some children may not be able to communicate their needs and concerns or explain their feelings. As a parent or carer you will need to be vigilant and responsive to your children’s needs, and perhaps to anticipate those needs if they have difficulty expressing them.