Mental health disorders in children

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What is a Mental Disorder?

Behavioral or mental pattern that causes significant distress or impairment of personal functioning. Any condition that affects your mood, thinking, and behavior are called a disorder.

Mental health disorders in children are actually delays or disruptions in the development of age-appropriate thinking, behaviors, social skills, or the regulation of emotions. These issues are disturbing to children and disrupt their ability to function well at different activities, at school, or in other social situations.

Common illnesses among children:

  • Anxiety Disorders:

Persistent fears and worries, or stress in children that disturb their ability to participate in events, school or common age-appropriate social situations. These also include social anxiety, generalized anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders and more.

  • Depression and mood disorders:

Depression is a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest that disrupts a child’s ability to function in school events and their interaction with others. Bipolar disorder leads to extreme mood swings between depression and intensely emotional, or behavioral highs that may not be protected, risky, or unsafe.

  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder:

Children with ADHD have difficulty with attention, impulsive behaviors, hyperactivity. It causes difficulty in brain development and brain activity that affects attention, the ability to sit still, and self-control in children.

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder:

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological condition that appears in early childhood before age 3. Although the severity of it varies, a child with this disorder has difficulty communicating and interacting with others.

  • Eating Disorders:

Eating disorders are eating behaviors that put a negative impact on your health. It includes disrupting regulation of emotions, disordered thinking about weight and weight loss, and unsafe eating and dieting habits. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder can result in emotional and social dysfunction and life-threatening physical complications.

  • Schizophrenia:

Schizophrenia is a disorder in thoughts and perception that causes an individual to lose touch with reality. Most frequently appearing in the late teens through the 20s, schizophrenia leads to hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking and behaviors. Identifying and starting treatment for childhood schizophrenia as early as possible may significantly improve your child’s long-term outcome.

  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder:

This disorder is characterized by delays within the development of socialization and communication skills. Parents may note symptoms as early as infancy, although the standard age of onset is before 3 years of age. Gradually, the symptoms start to show more prominently as the child grows.

  • Tic Disorder:

Uncontrollable movement or sound that deviates from a person’s normal gestures. A child with a motor tic might keep blinking over and over again and with a vocal tic, he might make a grunting sound unwillingly.

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:  

Trauma plays a major part in the development of mental health conditions in childhood. Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that destroy your child’s sense of security, making them feel helpless in this world. Any situation that leaves an individual feeling overwhelmed and isolated can be traumatic, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm.

Common causes of emotional and psychological trauma include the loss of a loved one, a recent surgery, troubled house environment, nightmares, abuse, changing schools, bullying, parents’ separation, a big move or a deeply disappointing experience. Untreated or unresolved trauma can result in mental health problems that can present in childhood or later in life.

Whether your child has been through a traumatic event or not, it is very important to be able to recognize the warning signs that they may be struggling with a mental health disorder. As a parent or guardian, one should know the major symptoms of illnesses among the children.

Signs to attentively look for:

Children have difficulty expressing their genuine emotions if parents, siblings or peers do not have a secure relationship with them. They may exhibit the symptoms of a particular disorder but also show other symptoms as well. The symptoms could be difficult to understand because the development of children is a process that involves changes. The signs may also differ depending on the age of the child.

  • Poor Academic performance
  • Frequent complaints of physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach aches
  • Sleep or appetite problems like sleeping too much or too little
  • Nightmares and Sleepwalking
  • Noncompliant or aggressive behaviors
  • Risk-taking behaviors or showing less concern for their own safety.
  • Feeling very sad or withdrawn for two or more weeks
  • Seriously trying to harm themselves or making plans to do so
  • Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing
  • Involved in multiple fights, using a weapon, or wanting badly to hurt others
  • Not eating properly, throwing up purposely or using laxatives to lose weight
  • Intensive fear or worry that get in the way of daily activities
  • Extreme difficulty in concentrating
  • Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
  • Drastic changes in behavior or personality
  • Social isolation or withdrawal
  • Making excuses to miss school
  • Extreme excitability for long periods of time
  • Constant disobeying behavior with authority figure
  • Talking about death or suicide
  • Outbursts and extreme irritability
  • Out-of-control behavior that can be harmful
  • Lack of motivation
  • Delusions/hallucinations
  • Bizarre ideas, behavior, speech

What can you do to help your child?

Children do not have as much power as adults to fully express what they feel. They might need a gentle push on their back to convey what’s in their mind. Unlike adults, it is more difficult to take children to therapy because they might feel alienated and abnormal.

In this kind of situation, it is important for a parent or guardian to help the child as much as possible. To help your child progress, this is a list of activities you can perform:

  • Making them feel loved, trusted, understood, valued and safe
  • Take interest in their lives and give them opportunities to enjoy themselves
  • Being hopeful and optimistic
  • Being able to learn and having opportunities to succeed
  • Help them accept who they are and recognising what they are good at
  • Having built a sense of belonging in their family, school and community
  • Making them feel they have some control over their own life
  • Making them realise they have the strength to cope when something is wrong and the ability to solve problems
  • Being better at communication
  • Talking them out of a problem
  • Do not push and demand. Instead guide and support
  • Be careful of what you say in front of them
  • Love and appreciate them everyday
  • Recognize and appreciate their little efforts
  • Always keep in check their psychological needs
  • If your child has experienced trauma, it is imperative that they go to therapy that focuses on this past trauma. As a parent or guardian, you can also be a part of this healing process by going to family therapy sessions.
  • Aside from therapy, your child may need special attention in school and it may be wise to inform school counselors and teachers about your child’s history.

When do you need to contact a professional?

All children show disobedience and mood swings. They throw tantrums and act hyperactive but when this becomes severe and out of control, it depicts a more serious and significant issue. Whenever this happens, you need to contact a professional mental health worker.

Seeking professional help does not mean your child is crazy or that you are an incompetent parent. Sometimes, children need more than your support to perform their best and to grow just as other children.

General signs that depict the need for you to contact a professional include your strategies not showing results at all, your child’s behavior interferes with his school activities, it also impacts his social life, his behavior is not developmentally appropriate or what is considered as normal.

With early intervention and treatment, you can help your child get a better outcome.

Do not hesitate to ask your child and contact a professional. Talk with your child’s pediatrician and discuss the activities of your child frequently. Talking to a behavior specialist could put your mind at ease, especially if there are no serious problems. If problems are detected, a child behavior specialist can address the problem before it gets worse.

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