Mental and behavioral disorders affect many children in the United States; in fact, a recent study suggests that one in six children in our country suffers from some form of treatable mental illness. The difference between a successful or unsuccessful outcome once the child grows into an adult? The ability to obtain early diagnosis and treatment.
The most common childhood mental and behavioral issues include anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, and depression. Diseases such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and substance abuse can be found in younger children, as well, but are most likely to present themselves in teens.
As children are in the business of growing and changing rapidly, it can be difficult for doctors to diagnose specific mental illnesses without the help of testing. A comprehensive assessment will generally include a thorough interview with the parents to gain understanding about the child’s history and behavior; information from the child’s school; and an interview with the child about their own experiences.
Doctors can also look for some common symptoms in order to guide the testing and alert them to something that needs treatment. These symptoms can include, but are not limited to:
- Poor school performance or difficulty making friends and getting along with peers
- Loss of interest and low energy
- Avoidance of social gatherings, friends, or family members
- Engaging in self-harming or risky behaviors
- Outbursts or tantrum-like episodes
- Reverting to behaviors exhibited while younger, such as bed wetting
- Frequent headaches, stomachaches or other pain in the body
- Changes in eating habits
If you believe your child may be suffering from mental illness, it’s important that you get them the help they need as soon as possible. Better outcomes have been associated with early intervention and treatment, as poor mental health can affect every part of a child’s life. Psychotherapy and medications are generally what doctors prescribe, although meditation, mindfulness tools, and dietary changes are also becoming quite popular as part of a healthy lifestyle shift to help your child thrive post-diagnosis.
Supporting your child’s journey is an important part of their healing. Learn about their illness, explore possible family counseling, seek ways to calm your own stress response, and find ways to engage with your child. Mental and behavioral illnesses can be difficult for families to endure, but take solace in knowing that it may allow your relationship with your child to become even stronger than it was before.