Children can develop all of the same mental health conditions as adults, but because they’re still learning how to identify and talk about thoughts and emotions, they typically express them differently than adults.
For example, depressed children will often show more irritability than depressed adults, who more typically show sadness. Children suffering from anxiety will often express stomachaches or headaches rather than the excessive worrying or fear that adults often report.
As a result, mental illness in children can be hard for parents to identify and many children who could benefit from treatment don’t get the help they need. Because of the importance of early intervention and, in extreme cases, the risk of suicide, it is important that parents understand the warning signs of mental illness in children. Here are a few:
1. Mood changes.
Look for feelings of sadness or withdrawal that last at least two weeks or severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships at home or school.
2. Difficulty concentrating.
Look for signs of trouble focusing or sitting still.
3. Changes at school.
Look for significant changes in school performance, specifcally in academics and behaviors towards teachers and peers.
4. Intense feelings.
Be aware of overwhelming fear for no reason or worries intense enough to interfere with daily activities.
5. Frequent nightmares.
6. Increased aggression.
Look for increased disobedience, dangerous or out-of-control behavior; Fighting frequently, using weapons and expressing a desire to badly hurt others.
7. Frequent temper tantrums.
8. Physical harm.
Sometimes a mental health condition leads to self-harm, the act of deliberately harming your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself.
9. Unexplained weight loss.
A sudden loss of appetite, frequent vomiting or use of laxatives might indicate an eating disorder.
10. Substance abuse.
Some kids use drugs or alcohol to try to cope with their feelings.
If you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, consult your child’s doctor and describe the behavior that concerns you. Consider talking to your child’s teacher, close friends, or other caregivers to see if they’ve noticed any changes in your child’s behavior.
If your child is suicidal, you should immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911.
For more information about outpatient mental and behaviorial health services provided by The Village Network, please call 800-638-3232.