Mental Illness – How to Help your Child

By: Kari Walters, LPC-IT, Kohl’s Building Blocks Program at Penfield Children’s Center

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 7 children ages 2-8 years old have a mental, behavioral or developmental disorder. Believing that a child’s behavior is simply part of the child’s personality or that the child simply has a difficult temper or short attention span can make it difficult for parents to recognize that their child has a mental illness. While this is true for some children, others might have an underlying mental health condition that, if not treated, could have effects that last throughout their lifetime.

It can also be common for parents to worry about stigma when deciding whether or not to seek mental health services for their child. Will my friends and family think I can’t control my child? Will the child get made fun of at school if others find out?

It’s important to not only keep up with your child’s physical health, but mental health as well. While it is never too late to seek treatment for mental health disorders, early intervention can address issues in a child’s development to help prevent serious mental health concerns in the future.

Mental Health Conditions in Children:
While children and adults can develop the same types of mental health disorders, they often present differently. Some of these conditions include:

Mood disorders: Bipolar, borderline personality disorder, and depression are all examples of mood disorders. Though the majority of these disorders can’t be officially diagnosed until a child is at least six years or older, behaviors such as extreme mood swings, persistent temper tantrums and long periods of sadness may indicate that a mood disorder should be assessed for in the future.
• Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Children with ADHD often exhibit impulsive behaviors and have a hard time concentrating. They can also be hyperactive and have difficulties in school.
Autism spectrum disorder: Most children with this condition receive the diagnosis before age 3. Symptoms can include: inability to make eye contact, not responding to his or her name being called by age 12 months, delayed speech, non-typical reactions to sounds, tastes and textures.

The above are just a handful of examples of mental health conditions. If you are concerned with your child’s behavior, consult your child’s physician or mental health specialist as he/she can provide an accurate diagnosis.

If your child is diagnosed with a mental health condition, it is important to remember the child can still lead a very typical, healthy life and that the child is not alone.

Types of Help Available:
• Psychotherapy/counseling or “talk therapy” allows your child to talk to a mental health care provider and learn about the his/her feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. It’s common for the provider to teach the child ways to calm down in uncomfortable situations, ask for help in a positive way, and use healthy coping skills, such as taking deep breaths or hugging an item the child finds comforting.
• Family therapy is another option and teaches the entire family unit how to support the child and each other. It can bring an understanding of the child’s mental illness to members of the family who might believe the child is simply “bad.” Family therapy is also helpful because it allows everyone to be on the same page in setting similar boundaries so that the child isn’t receiving mixed feedback from each person.
• Medications such as anti-depressants, mood stabilizers or stimulants can be used to treat a child and can be prescribed by a psychiatrist or physician. Medications are often used in addition to psychotherapy.

If your child is diagnosed with a mental illness, it can be helpful to seek out support. Group sessions led by a mental health professional can provide an opportunity to discuss concerns and receive feedback for managing difficult behaviors.

How have you helped your child cope with mental illness?

References
https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/mental-illness-in-children/art-20046577
https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/children-and-mental-health/index.shtml

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