While commonly thought of as an “adult problem,” approximately 50% of all mental illnesses present before the age of 14. Early intervention, treatment, and management are key to improving symptoms and possibly even reversing some mental disorders before they take hold.
Types of Mental Illness in Children
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – ADHD most often manifests as a child who has trouble focusing, is hyperactive, and can’t successfully control their impulses. This is the most commonly diagnosed mental illness in young children.
- Schizophrenia – One of the most serious mental health disorders, schizophrenia often involves symptoms like distorted thoughts, hallucinations, and paranoia.
- Affective disorders – This category includes mood disorders, like depression and bipolar disorder, that involve persistent feelings of sadness and/or rapidly cycling moods.
- Anxiety disorders – There are many different anxiety disorders, ranging from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) to specific phobias.
Signs of Mental Illness in Children
Parents should be on the lookout for the presentation of one or more of these common symptoms below:
- Disruptive behavior
- Lack of interest in activities
- Trouble sleeping
- Social withdrawal
- Sudden changes in eating habits
- Sudden weight loss
- Mood swings
- Slipping grades
- Trouble functioning
- Fear and anxiety
- Apathy or sadness
- Inability to cope
- Hallucinations (in schizophrenia)
Diagnosis of Mental Illness in Children
The diagnosis of mental illness in children can be a very lengthy process. Your child will be evaluated based on their signs and symptoms and how much the condition is affecting their everyday life. Before a diagnosis is made, your child may meet and speak with several specialists, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, clinical social worker, or other mental health professional.
A complete medical exam, in conjunction with a personal medical history, family medical history, and academic history, can help doctors see the whole picture. Your child may be asked to participate in an assessment or questionnaire to help make a diagnosis. The diagnosis of mental illness in children can be complex, and it is not uncommon for a diagnosis to change over time to better reflect your child’s current feelings and development.
Management of Mental Illness in Children
As with eating disorders, it is important that your child receive the love and support of the entire family and key community members during the treatment and management of their condition.
Different forms of therapy can be very helpful for young children, including Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), talk therapy, play therapy, and family therapy.
In addition, lifestyle changes have been shown to be very effective for many mental disorders, including anxiety and depression.
In some cases, there may be approved medications that have been shown to be safe and effective, especially for older children and teens. Medications that regulate serotonin, known as SSRIs and SNRIs, are some of the most common medications for mental disorders and have been approved by the FDA for children.
* It is important to note that some anti-depressants, including SSRIs, have been known to cause an increase of suicidal thoughts in some patients. The use of any such medication in children should be monitored and controlled closely by a doctor. *
If you see signs of mental illness in your child and would like to schedule an evaluation with Indian Crest Pediatrician, please give us a call today to speak with one of our caring, board-certified pediatricians.