Most likely we all have met or known a child who had a ‘difficult time’ growing up. He or she may have missed school, didn’t enjoy school activities and didn’t make friends. Parents might have hoped that this child would ‘grow out of it’ or ‘get over it.’ However, if the causes of these behaviors were undiagnosed mental illness, the chance of any child recovering on his or her own is remote.
That’s why it’s important for parents, grandparents and guardians to recognize the signs of possible mental health issues in children, and not be afraid to ask for help.
Dr. Stephen Mandler, Chief Medical Officer at Orchard Place, says there are specific behaviors children with mental illness exhibit that should not be ignored. These include:
1. Worry or anxiety. Although this can be common among young children, if the worry is ongoing or occurs daily, or if fears are exaggerated, checking in with a licensed therapist may be in order.
2. Behavior problems in school or preschool.
3. Exposure to trauma. Studies have shown that traumatic experiences during childhood can have a lasting impact. Moving to a new school, losing a family member and being exposed to violence or abuse rank at the top of the list for trauma-related experiences that may cause mental health conditions.
4. Trouble sleeping and/or persistent nightmares.
5. Writings, drawings or actions that express a wish to harm others.
6. Prolonged sadness or reduced interest in an activity or hobby that the child has enjoyed in the past.
7. Temper tantrums or crying fits that continue over an extended period of time.
8. Avoidance. If a child does not want to go to school or visit a friend, or if there has been a sudden change in relationships or friendships, seek help to diagnose the larger issue.
9. Destructive behavior, such as damaging property, hitting, kicking, purposely breaking things or setting fires.
10. Substance abuse.
“I encourage those responsible for children to arm themselves with information. Many of these conditions make parents feel like they have tried everything to no avail,” says Dr. Mandler. “I want them to know that there is no shame in reaching out for help, and it could be one of the best things parents can do for their child or children.”
Meeting with a mental health provider to talk about your concerns is important. The provider will also want to see how you and your child interact, which may take several appointments. Afterward, the therapist can talk to you privately about the concerns your child may be struggling with, and if therapy alone or other approaches in combination would comprise the best treatment.
If you have questions or are seeking treatment for a child with possible mental health or behavioral issues, call the Orchard Place Child Guidance Center at: 515-224-2267.