Mental Health in Children: an Important Part of Overall Health
In the United States, four-million children and teens suffer from a serious mental-health disorder. However, only 20 % are identified and receive mental-health services. Early intervention is key to curbing these disturbing statistics, and May – which is Mental Health Awareness Month – is an ideal time to increase awareness about these crucial issues.
The consequences of untreated mental-health disorders in kids and adolescents are both profound and alarming:
Suicide – Suicide is the third leading cause of death in those ages 15 to 24, and over 90% of children and teens who commit suicide have a mental-health disorder.
School Failure – Approximately 50% of students ages 14 and older – who are living with a mental-health disorder – drop out of high school.
Incarceration – In juvenile-detention facilities, 65% of boys and 75% of girls, suffer from at least one mental-health disorder.
Warning Signs of a Troubled Child or Teen
Following is a list of the most common warning signs that a youngster or adolescent may be suffering from a mental-health disorder. It’s important to note that these signs generally aren’t one-time occurrences; rather, they are likely to be observable persistently over at least a several-week period:
- Changes in sleep patterns, such as sleeping excessively or inability to sleep.
- Unfounded weeping or severe moodiness.
- A significant weight loss or weight gain.
- Expressions of hopelessness, low self-esteem, or self-loathing.
- Paranoia and/or irrational secrecy.
- Physically harming oneself, such as cutting the skin, pulling hair, or purposely hitting one’s head against a hard surface.
- Talking about taking one’s life or actually attempting suicide.
- Excessive isolation from family, friends, and the world at large.
- Marked change in school performance, including a sharp drop in grades, heightened absenteeism, truancy, or exhibiting behavior problems at school.
- Inability to cope with simply tasks, small problems, or daily activities.
- Expressing many physical complaints.
- Exhibiting promiscuous behavior.
- Prolonged, unfounded negative mood and attitude.
- Abuse of alcohol and/or drugs.
- Obsession with body weight, often to the point of becoming anorexic.
- Frequent nightmares.
- Angry or aggressive behavior.
- Running away or threatening to run away.
- Engaging in criminal acts, such as stealing or vandalism.
- An inability to focus, even for short periods of time.
While having a child or teen who’s suffering from a mental-health disorder is upsetting, the positive news is that mental illnesses absolutely can be treated successfully, and these kids and adolescents unquestionably can go on to reach their full potential and live long, happy lives.
The first step is to schedule an appointment with the child or teen’s pediatrician/primary care physician to rule out the existence of any medical problems that could be causing mental-health symptoms. If medical tests do not uncover any physical conditions, then a referral will likely be made to a child psychiatrist or other mental-health professional who would then conduct psychological testing. Children also must be carefully evaluated to distinguish possible mental-health conditions from learning disabilities or developmental delays.
If a child or teen is diagnosed with a mental-health issue, a comprehensive treatment plan will be developed – one that likely will include psychotherapy and, in some cases, medication. Whenever possible, the youngster or adolescent should be involved in treatment decisions.