Mental Illnesses In Children – Knowing The Signs


As a parent, guardian, or caregiver, we all strive for our children to achieve the best in their lives. No matter how low they fall, as long as they can reach their top, it is enough for you. Which is why it is heartbreaking to see when they are going through a difficult time. You stretch all the possible ways to help them in any way, especially when they are sick or going through a hard time in school. They also have their fair share of anxieties and stressful situations.

Take note that according to Kathleen Smith, PhD, LPC, “Many people with depression may experience what is known as “anxious distress” in addition to their low mood.” Nevertheless, continued support from you makes them able to solve these problems. However, it is extra difficult when you are guiding a child who is suffering from a mental illness.

At some point, you may think, “How can my child experience something like this?” But in fact, the most common leading causes of disabilities worldwide are mental illnesses. From this information, around 10 to 20 percent of children and adolescents exhibit symptoms and signs of diagnosable mental disorders. The thought of your child being a part of that may leave an aching feeling in you. But, the ultimate course of action is to know whether your child is actually suffering from a mental illness.

Your child may still be very young. Luckily, that is the prime time for treatment. It is easier to spot symptoms and find help at a young age. Being an adult with a mental disorder may take a lot of time to treat and it can be difficult, too. The question for you is whether you can find the signs in your child and guarantee them the right treatment.

How Can I Find the Signs of a Mental Illness in My Child?


If there is a possibility that your child has a mental disorder, you will notice that “something” is keeping him or her from carrying out normal daily life activities. It may be interfering with your child’s ability to function properly in great deal. Some parents may think of this as some sort of “phase” that they’re child is going through and that they will eventually “grow out” of it. But, ignoring this could be a huge mistake especially for your child.

It is best to seek professional help when you observe these signs in your child:

  • Behavioral problems
  • Sleep troubles
  • Sudden changes in eating habits and weight
  • Problems in school performance
  • Repetitive nightmares
  • Seeing or hearing things that are not there
  • Prolonged sadness
  • Sudden negative changes in behavior that are difficult to explain
  • Extreme hyperactivity (beyond what is considered normal for kids)
  • Excessive anger, worry, anxiety, or crying
  • Very disobedient (to the point of using violence against others)
  • Unrestrained temper tantrums
  • Persistent separation anxiety (when it stretches on for months. This commonly happens with parents – when dropping your child off for the first day of school, etc.)

The Most Common Types of Mental Illnesses in Children


Knowing about what your child may be going through is also important. Knowing is the key to know how you can support and help them through his/her difficulties. Although there are various kinds of mental illnesses, there are still many common types of mental disorders in children, such as:

  • Anxiety Disorders
    • An anxiety disorder involves characterizations of feelings of intense anxiety or fear. There are many types of anxiety disorders that children may exhibit, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, separation anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
  • Depression
    • Depression can affect people of all ages. The primary symptoms of depression that your child may show are extreme sadness, feelings of hopelessness, and mood swings. 
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
    • ADHD is chronic and will usually develop around early childhood. But, a word of caution, there is a big possibility it may continue into adulthood if left untreated. The three primary aspects of ADHD in children are persistent inattention, extreme hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
    • ASD involves disorders that delay a person’s development in multiple areas, such as thinking, language, and motor skills. Children with ASD may have aspects that lead to other disorders like depression and OCD, and it can cause learning and sensory difficulties.

Finding the Right Treatment


You know what your son or daughter is going through and you’ve come to accept it – now, what? You want to do everything you can for your child so that they won’t have a difficult life or be in a crisis as they transcend to adulthood. You will search for all the possibilities and grab all the opportunities to have your child treated, but you need to ask yourself, “Is this right for my child?”

Once you decide to take your child to a professional (a teacher, a therapist/counselor, or a developmental pediatrician), they will carry out an analysis on them. Then after the diagnosis, the professional will inform you about the possible treatments, such as:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
    • CBT is one of the most effective treatments for mental disorders, like depression or anxiety. It is involved in the patient’s pattern of thought and how it affects their mood.
    • Examples of CBT Techniques:
      • Play therapy
      • Role playing
      • Imagery
      • Behavioral experiments
  • Occupational Therapy (OT)
    • OT is a type of therapy that focuses on treatment through hands-on activity that are required and significant in daily life.
  • Operant Conditioning
    • This therapy is focused on learning in which individual’s behavior is changed because of consequences/results.
  • Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT)
    • This form of therapy uses animals as treatment, focusing on honing an individual’s social, emotional, or cognitive functioning.

What Can I do to Prevent my Child from Developing a Mental Illness?

Never think that what your child may be going through is hopeless. Take note that Hannah Rose, LCPC, says “It’s of the utmost importance to talk about these feelings.” There are ways for you to do in order to prevent your child from developing an irreversible mental illness. As said before, their young age is the prime time for treatment. This also applies to the preventive measures you can take. When you feel that something is “off” with your child, do not hesitate to look for professional help. Sal Raichbach, PsyD, LCSW says “Mental health apps have the potential to reach people who would otherwise not receive help by removing the barriers to treatment.” Because of this, it is best if you will also check out the best smartphone applications available online.