Children’s Mental Health
School is in full swing and youngsters have a lot going on. Not just quizzes, schoolyard politics, and chores – these days children face an ever growing digital world of streaming information and 24-hour social media. The plates of our kids are full. One can’t imagine the chaos of being young and suffering from mental illness.
Writing this brought me back to my own anxiety-riddled school days. I confronted everyday kid problems like “My parents won’t let me go to the party” or “This kid likes to pick on me.” Although it sucked I could cope and move through it. But then there was the excessive hand washing making me late to guitar lessons. The constant ruminating, “Will I have to use the bathroom at school? I HATE having to sit on those toilets!” As a freshman middle schooler I even worried that stepping on a crack in the pavement would result in tragedy. My busy life transformed into a downright frenzy.
The example seems dire but I was actually lucky regarding the depth of my symptoms. I wasn’t unfazed but I wasn’t agoraphobic. It made my life moderately worse. But moderately worse is too much worse.
Not to mention it made life difficult for those around me. If someone triggered anxiety or refused to go along with a compulsion I would throw fits. During my teenage years I would act out in more dangerous ways.
Reduced quality of life is bad enough but there are even deeper implications to childhood disorders.
Children’s brains develop in profound ways. They need mental health to ensure behaviors and moods grow properly, steering them to maximum potential. Early mental illness interferes with learning, social skills, physical health, and if left untreated could bring trouble in adulthood.
Sadly, around 15 million kids in the U.S. are diagnosed with mental illness yet only a small percent of those receive proper treatment. This disparity affects everyone although especially hurt are children in low income areas without access to care. Relevant here, too, is the previously discussed topic of mental health stigma.
Mental and physical health share an emphasis on early intervention. Trying to catch and treat strep throat or diabetes at the onset is medical common sense and the same goes for mental disorders. For example, what started as problematic aversions to school and play-dates could become hardened social anxiety later on.
So how can parents tell if their child might have a disorder? It depends on the age. For young children experts suggest noting if the child complains about frequent mysterious health issues, throws excessive fits and tantrums, does compulsions with concern that something bad may occur, or struggles in school/socially. For adolescents, they might display disinterest in formerly interesting activities, abuse substances, sleep irregularly, go through periods of extreme high and/or low energy, self harm, or engage in other dangerous behavior.
The first step for parents is meeting with teachers, counselors, and pediatricians to assess whether psychological help is needed. Ideally they will steer parents toward professionals who specialize in treating children. Then, with that professional, it’s important to discuss diagnoses and treatment options. Would talk therapy be best, or is behavioral therapy needed along with some medication? Maybe another doctor who focuses on something else is more appropriate? The trick is figuring out what works because everyone’s mind is different.
There are various ways to connect with a psychologist/psychiatrist for your child (at school, community health centers, private practitioners, hospitals with psychological programs, etc.) In case of difficulty finding help, below are some resources for parents of children who may be experiencing mental illness:
Note: For assistance with behavioral health issues, contact us at 305-740-3340 or schedule an appointment with BregmanMD.
American Psychological Association. Children’s Mental Health. Retrieved on October 21, 2018 from https://www.apa.org/pi/families/children-mental-health.aspx
National Institute of Mental Health (2018) Children and Mental Health. Retrieved on October 21, 2018 from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/children-and-mental-health/index.shtml