Children are thought to be happy-go-lucky little people with no care in the world. They don’t have to worry about working, paying bills, or dealing with grown-up challenges. So, how could they have mental health problems? This thought pattern has caused children with mental health struggles to be overlooked. Lack of information on mental health and fear of stigma are factors that prevent parents from seeking appropriate intervention. Getting children the mental healthcare they need right away can positively change the course of their lives.
What Is Mental Health?
Mental health refers to the state of cognitive, emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It’s more than just an absence of mental disorders in your children. Their state of mental well-being affects how kids feel and behave. Mental challenges among children are recognized by serious changes in the way they usually behave, learn, or handle their emotions (cope). The changes cause distress and trouble getting through the day. According to the World Health Organization, 20% of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year.
Signs of Child Mental Health Problems to Promptly Address
Young children and adolescents may show warning signs of affected mental health that are sometimes passed off as “a phase” they’re going through. They include the following changes that mental health experts say are more severe from when kids are faced with common challenges:
- Your child’s mood or personality is drastically different
- They have frequent mood swings
- They appear sad, extremely worried, fearful, or withdrawn
Other signs of mental health issues:
- Trouble controlling or regulating emotions
- Extreme or out-of-control behavior, e.g., getting into fights
- Risky behaviors that can cause self-harm
- Eating too much or too little
- Using alcohol or drugs
- Trouble with concentration or learning
These signs can relate to disorders such as mood disorders, anxiety, depression, impulse-behavior disorder, and ADHD. Signs of mental health issues may show up suddenly and grow worse over time. When you are trying to determine whether the changes are something to be worried about, ask yourself whether the new/current behavior is a core change, problematic, persistent, and impacts your child’s ability to carry out daily functions.
Signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Youths who suffered trauma from events such as an accident, parental neglect, or abuse are more likely to act out or engage in substance abuse. Children may also show signs of post-traumatic stress. Common signs include trouble sleeping, nightmares, irritability, angry outbursts, persistent fear or sadness, and avoiding certain people or places.
When to Seek Immediate Help
Take signs of mental health challenges in your child seriously. Monitor worrisome and persistent changes in behavior and seek early interventions. Seek help right away for drug or alcohol use or if your child talks about self-harm or suicide. Your child’s doctor can conduct an initial assessment and refer the child for a mental health evaluation, intervention, or treatment by a mental health professional.
Types of Early Intervention and Treatment for Kids
Prompt diagnosis and early intervention by specialists positively impact the prognosis and future outcomes. Taking these steps can help prevent symptoms from worsening and can affect the future mental, physical, social, educational, and financial outcomes for children, teens, and young adults.
Intervention and treatment strategies can include:
- Identifying unusual or severe behavioral problemsSpeaking with your child about problems or feelings affecting them
- Monitoring children who appear to have trouble dealing with their emotions or everyday challenges
- Facilitating a doctor’s assessment
- Getting them mental health or substance abuse counseling
- Following up with recommended mental health therapy, e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Getting involved in family therapy
Treatment ought to be family-driven and child-focused to achieve the best possible outcome. Counseling and therapy can teach your child problem-solving and coping skills. During family therapy, you will receive guidance on how to support your child.
Risks of Delaying Intervention or Treatment
Nipping things in the bud is crucial for improving your child’s quality of life at home, school, and in the larger community. Delaying treatment for children who are clearly having difficulties coping or who receive a mental disorder diagnosis is denying their fundamental human right to health protection. The right extends to timely and appropriate health care, including care related to mental health.
The risks of delayed treatment can include poor outcomes in the areas of physical, cognitive, and mental health, and emotional and social well-being. Children who do not receive professional help for their challenges may face lifelong mental health or substance abuse struggles and an increased risk of suicide. Timely interventions can have a significant positive impact.
Give Your Child the Gift of Good Mental Health
Any child can start having trouble with mental health regardless of the home they’re raised in. Nourishing your children’s mental health from infancy and providing a safe, nurturing environment can lower their risk of developing mental disorders. If you are concerned about your child’s mental well-being, promptly get them the help they need. Children deserve the dignity of receiving effective services that allow them to lead healthy and productive lives.
Tasnova Malek, MD, graduated from Bangladesh Medical College and practiced as a primary care physician for six years in Bangladesh. After moving to the USA, she worked at Emory University Hospital in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine and Hospital medicine research. During COVID-19, she worked as a crisis counselor in Florida Corona Virus Emergency Response Team. Currently, she is working in the National Suicidal Prevention Center as well as a medical reviewer for Sunshine Behavioral Health.