While more people are openly talking about mental health issues, we should also keep in mind that adults aren’t the only ones who can be affected. These issues can start as early as childhood and can affect the way kids behave, learn, communicate, and handle their emotions. And these illnesses may also have serious effects if they remain undiagnosed. Although it may be difficult to differentiate signs of mental illness from typical childhood behavior and kids themselves may not know exactly how to put what they’re feeling into words, help is out there!
In honor of Mental Health Month and to gain a better understanding of mental health in kids, we did our research and asked our friends at MAGIS Creative Spaces about the common mental health problems kids face and the signs parents and caregivers must watch out for to help their kids grow happy and healthy. Read what these experts have to say!
“Mental health problems that occur frequently among children are anxiety-related disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), trauma, mood problems such as depression and behavior concerns such as aggression and emotional dysregulation,” says Fabrienne Calipara, Registered Psychologist (RPsy).
To give you an idea: ASD involves impairments in communication and social interaction, while ADHD refers to difficulty in concentrating, paying attention, and controlling impulsive behavior. Depression is characterized by persistent and unusual sadness, a lack of interest in hobbies the child used to enjoy, changes in sleep patterns, lower energy levels, and negativity towards the self. And dysregulation is a condition where the child exhibits extreme tantrums or chronic irritability.
The signs of mental issues may change as the child grows older. There are also different symptoms for each kind of mental disability. “It’s always good to bring in mind the 5 Ds to determine whether parents need to seek professional help for their child. These refer to the presence of 1.) Distress, 2.) Deviance, 3.) Dysfunction, 4.) Dangerousness, and 5.) Duration” in their behavior, says Fabrienne.
The therapists from MAGIS also recommend asking these questions to help spot the red flags of mental disorders:
MAGIS therapists recommend that parents talk to mental health professionals who specialize in the age range of the child, developmental pediatricians, and psychologists who perform psychological assessments applicable to the child’s age. These are experts who can give insight, facilitate understanding, and assess for a diagnosis if necessary.
Mental health issues are diagnosed or evaluated through a series of clinical interviews and psychological testing conducted by either a child psychiatrist or psychologist. These diagnostic evaluations usually involve interviews with the parents about the child’s current condition, medical or treatment history, behavior in school, any possible trauma, and the like. A proper diagnosis is critical in determining the best treatment for the child.
“There are so many effective treatments out there. A lot of the present treatments may differ in approach but are the same in putting a lot of emphasis on understanding the problem, working out the best way to tackle it and develop effective coping means,” says Fabrienne. “The best treatment though is multi-faceted, meaning the child is undergoing psychotherapy and the parents are undergoing training or therapy themselves to know how to help their child heal and improve.”
Gia Umil, Registered Psychometrician (RPm) and Research and Programs Coordinator at MAGIS explains, “Whether there are presenting mental health issues or not, parents are in a prime position to influence their children’s well-being and support them in building essential coping skills. It starts with establishing attunement within the parent-child relationship. This means that both the parent and child can read one another’s emotional cues and respond in a way that meets both their needs.”
According to Gia, parents must first learn and understand how their child communicates. Observe how they look when they are happy, sad, worried, or angry. Knowing these cues will help parents respond appropriately to their child’s behavior. If your child is experiencing dysregulation or the condition of chronic irritability, you can cue strategies for emotion regulation such as deep breathing or counting down. Parents can even do these techniques together with their child!
Moms and dads, always remember that having your child diagnosed with a mental illness does not make you bad parents. These mental illnesses can be treated and managed with the help of experts much like any other physical disease. Of course, because there are many factors or causes that are involved, everything can be a bit overwhelming. Still, you can be comforted by the fact that there are a number of professionals out there who can help you understand how these factors come into play in your child’s mental health.
So mental illnesses are nothing to be ashamed of–we just have to be aware of them and know that your perspective as parents matters. Let’s start by being properly informed, and if needed, seek the help of experts as early as possible!
“Children and Mental Health.” National Institute of Mental Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“Mental illness in children: Know the signs” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
“What Are Childhood Mental Disorders? | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Topics A-Z.” Child Mind Institute.