There are many forms of mental illness that can occur during the childhood years. Conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorders, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, eating disorders, and substance abuse are fairly common among youth but may initially be hard to identify. Young children especially may have difficulty putting their feelings into words and may only be able to express that they “don’t feel good”.
There are other factors which may interfere with a diagnosis of mental illness. Symptoms of mental health concerns may be intertwined. For instance, a child could be affected by both depression and an eating disorder or anxiety and ADHD. Since children are still in a crucial stage of development, it can be easy to chalk symptoms up to growing pains or simply going through a phase.
So how do you as a parent know when to be concerned? Speak to your child’s pediatrician if you notice any of the following:
- An abrupt change in sleeping or eating habits.
- A sudden loss of interest in school or persistent poor grades.
- Change of personality. For instance, a once happy, upbeat child becomes emotional, distant or exceptionally nervous.
- Pattern of substance use.
- Difficulty interacting with others at home or at school.
The bottom line is, if you are a parent concerned about mental illness, listen to your instincts. It’s better to have something checked out than to ignore a potential problem that could evolve and worsen over time. Additionally, early identification and attention to mental health conditions typically yield the best treatment options.
If your pediatrician suspects a mental health concern may be present, he or she can help connect you to a mental health professional who is better equipped to provide the care and services your child needs and deserves. School counselors and other families living with mental illness are also excellent sources of support.
Family Guidance Center is committed to walking families through the process of coping with mental illness. Last year alone, Family Guidance Center was able to provide assistance to nearly 1,000 children across 50 schools. Mental health is a manageable disease; contact Family Guidance Center to learn more about programs geared toward youth.