By: Dyan Eybergen BA,RN,ACPI
For parents, the key to handling mental disorders of children is to recognize the problem and seek appropriate treatment. Early support and intervention are vital, as research shows that half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14. Mental illness in children can be hard for parents to identify. As a result, many children who could benefit from treatment don't get the help they need.
KNOW THE SIGNS
- Mood changes. Depression in children and adolescents often manifests itself in irritability rather than sadness.
- Listen for expressed feelings of hopelessness and watch for social withdrawal and a loss of interest or pleasure in activities that lasts at least two weeks. Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships at home or school is also a good indicator of a developing mood disorder.
- Intense feelings. Be aware of feelings of overwhelming fear for no reason — sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing — or worries or fears intense enough to interfere with activities of daily living (going to school, playing with friends).
- Difficulty concentrating. Look for signs of trouble focusing or staying on task to complete projects/assignments. A sudden drop in school performance is a red flag that something underlying is going on.
- Behaviour changes. These include drastic changes in behaviour or personality, as well as dangerous or out-of-control behaviour Outbursts of shouting, complaining, unexplained irritability, or crying.
- Fighting with others frequently, using weapons and threatening to hurt others.
- Unexplained weight loss. A sudden loss of appetite, frequent vomiting or use of laxatives might indicate an eating disorder.
- Physical symptoms. Compared with adults, children with a mental health condition may develop physical symptoms: headaches and stomachaches, they may constantly complain of aching arms, legs with no apparent cause rather than sadness or anxiety.
- Use of alcohol or other drugs.
- Physical harm. Sometimes a mental health condition leads to self-harm. This is the act of deliberately hurting your own body often by cutting or burning yourself. For people between the ages of 15 and 44, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death and the sixth leading cause of disability and infirmity worldwide (Canadian Mental Health Association).
If you're concerned about your child's mental health, it is advised that you speak with your child's teacher, close friends or loved ones, or other caregivers to see if they've noticed any changes in your child's behaviour. Consult your child's doctor and discuss what options are available for assessment and treatment.