It may be hard to identify mental illnesses in children at an early age, however there are signs and symptoms you can notice as your child rows. It is best to identify any ‘odd’ repeated pattern in your child’s daily routine. Understanding how to recognize the warning signs of a mental illness at an early age can help your child’s onset disease.
Let’s break it down by describing what mental really is
According to some top neurologists, there is a lot of misconception that forms around what mental illness really is. Mental health is overall a complicated topic, there are many diseases which are classified as neurological disorders, while others are psychological disorders, either way both are categorized under mental illness.
Mental illness is when a person’s normal ability to think, function and form uniform thought processes disrupts a person’s normal ability to function. The behavior alterations, stress and ways of expressions also sub-determining what is actually underlying behind a child’s development.
Mental disorders in children generally are due to stunt growths, lack of nutrition provided while they are at a growing age or delays in age appropriate cognitive abilities. Since ever child is different in his/her way of expression, another way of determining any odd situation can be through that child socially interacting with his/her peers.
It is therefore important to observe your child very keenly at least for the first 3 developing years. As a parent you should be very apt about regular doctor appointments and schedules for your child which must also include vaccines and monthly checkups.
Challenges for Childhood Mental Health Disorders
As a child develops more with his/her age, it is usually challenging to see through any odd behaviors. It also depends and varies according to the kind of mental disorder a child is suffering through as he/she will find it difficult to explain himself. The stigma and cost barriers that hinders many families to seek help is another big factor as to why most parents let their children live with the prevailing illness and in their eyes it’s the symptoms are only ‘minor’ and may become better with time.
No matter what the situation is, a suspected mental illness should be treated as soon as possible to avoid further resistance and almost all disorders are more likely to develop if they are not treated rightly.
Most Common Disorders among Children
Following are some of the most commonly addressed mental disorders found in children:
– Anxiety Disorder- anxiety disorder in children is unfortunately the most overlooked disorder mostly because parents hush their fears, worries and concerns away as mind games or as imagination play. What looks like anxiety disorder in children is persistent fears, worries and anxiety that disrupts their normal activities in school and at home. Being afraid, curious and worried in general is normal for all children. However excessive worry can be an indicator of generalized anxiety and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).
– Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder- it’s comparatively easier to identify ADHD as soon as a child steps into playful age. As a comparison children who have ADHD will have great difficulty with maintaining their attention. This will further include impulsive behaviors, spontaneous moves and hyperactive ways of addressing their surroundings.
– Autism Spectrum Disorder- Autism is a neurological disorder which onsets during the early years of childhood-usually before the age of 3. The severity of autism varies from child to child (hence why it’s addressed as spectrum). The common symptoms of this disorder is that a child finds it difficult in communicating and interacting with others on a daily basis. Autism can be improved with time and with constant therapy.
– Eating disorders- eating disorders may not develop in the earliest years of children, given that they are dependent on their parents for their daily nutrition. Most eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa can be seen in later teen years or early twenties which can result in social dysfunction and life-threatening complications. However you should not ignore any abnormal eating behaviors of your child and should consult a doctor right away.
– Depression disorders- even though parents are not looking for depression diagnosis when they first observe eccentric symptoms in their children, yet depression is found in young children as well. Depression is the persistent feeling of sadness and hopelessness. You might not observe it in the earlier years of childhood but later in teen’s depression can hinder a child’s ability to function at school and in social gatherings.
– Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Prolonged Emotional Restraint and distress can cause anxiety, distressing emotions, nightmares, rebellious behaviors as a result to violence, early childhood abuse or some severe trauma.
Other subtle warnings Signs of Mental illness in Children
– Persistent sadness- over two weeks of odd behavior should make you ask your child if everything is alright.
– Avoiding social contact completely.
– Hurting oneself occasionally (cuts, self-bruises etc.)
– Irritable mood
– Jittery behavior
– Avoiding school on purpose
– Not being able to sleep
– Changing eating habits
– Extreme mood swings
– Losing weight
– Complaining of constant stomach aches and headaches
The best thing you can do if you suspect any changes in your child is to consult a health professional as soon as possible. Before doing so you should get to know more about what exactly you should be looking for, for example, talking to your child’s teacher, close friends and other caregivers if they have observed any similar concerns.
Once you are sure about what may be the underlying condition, do not dwell in sadness or hopelessness yourself, rather be someone your child should look up to. Explore stress management strategies and seek fun ways to bond and interact with your child well.