Coping With Signs Of Mental Health Disorders In Your Child

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An estimated 57 million Americans live with mental illness. Studies have shown that half of all cases of mental illness begin to show symptoms by age 14. However, it can take much longer to get a firm diagnosis.

The reason it’s so difficult to diagnose mental illness in a child is that they are in a constant state of emotional flux, making it hard to determine whether they are going through a normal change or exhibiting symptoms of a serious disorder. For this reason, it’s important to understand the differences between typical changes that occur as a result of a big life change–for instance, a child acting out or regressing to baby talk after their infant sibling arrives–and behavior that may be a sign of a true disorder. Some of the warning signs of a mental health disorder include:

  • Problems in several areas, including at school or in social settings
  • Changes in sleeping and eating behaviors
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Suddenly being afraid of things that never bothered them before
  • Exhibiting behaviors such as bed-wetting or thumb-sucking after not having done it for a long time
  • Being upset to the point of tears easily
  • Risky or self-destructive behavior, such as substance abuse

Of course, not every instance of behavioral change indicates a serious problem. Some children have a harder time adjusting to change and stress than others. Note your child’s emotional and physical reactions when you become concerned and write them down, along with the dates, so that you can ask their doctor about what to expect. Remember that very young children are not adept at expressing their feelings, so don’t feel discouraged if your child won’t give you much to work with. Leave it to the professionals to help them sort out what they’re going through.

Some issues may get better with time, such as the grief of losing a pet or loved one; others take longer, and no two children will react the same way to a stressful situation or trauma. It’s okay to give them some space when it comes to healing, but if you suspect a mental health disorder is at work, don’t delay in getting help. Early diagnosis and treatment is the best option for any condition.

Medication is one option for treatment, although children respond differently to these than adults do. Do some research before agreeing to this method of treatment and, if your child is old enough, talk it over with them. Including them in their treatment will help ensure a better outcome.

Remember as well that it is not uncommon for a child to have more than one disorder; eating disorders, mood disorders, schizophrenia, and anxiety are examples of co-occurring issues that might wreak havoc on your child’s state of mind and wellbeing. Ask your pediatrician about your concerns and don’t be afraid to reach out for help from a support group or therapist, yourself. Coping with a loved one’s mental illness is never easy, but there is help available.

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