How is your child's mental health?

Your child’s mental health may not be something you think about often. You may not even realize it’s an issue. The sad fact is that almost 8 million kids in the U.S. suffer from a mental health disorder. And it’s not just angsty teenagers either. Nearly one in six elementary school children are affected by mental health issues. 

But it doesn’t matter if your child is six or sixteen, when they’re struggling, they need help. Unless you know what to look for and what to expect, you won’t be able to help your child get the help they need.

Childhood mental health issues

As a parent, you likely don’t want to think about your child having depression or anxiety, just like you don’t want them to have to deal with diabetes or asthma. But these issues can affect your child.

Here are some common mental health concerns. 

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or ADHD. Symptoms usually include hyperactivity, impulsive behavior, and having a hard time paying attention.
  • Mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder. Mood swings and sadness are common in children with a mood disorder.
  • Anxiety disorders, which range from post-traumatic stress and general anxiety to obsessive-compulsive disorder. These disorders can make it difficult for your child to function in their day-to-day life.

All children may display some tendency of certain mental health symptoms. One of the first steps in getting help for your child is to be aware of their symptoms and the impact on their social abilities, academics, and self-esteem. This can give you a solid foundation for seeking help.

Mental health symptoms in children

It’s unlikely your child will be able to recognize they’re dealing with something like depression or anxiety. As a parent, you have a unique ability to be aware of their symptoms so you can seek help. The following symptoms may be a sign that your child may struggle with a mental illness. Look for the following:

  • Substance abuse
  • Mood changes like severe sadness, withdrawal, or mood swings
  • Feeling intensely overwhelmed or fearful
  • Behavioral changes or changes in your child’s personality, especially if the changes feel out-of-control or violent 
  • Inability to concentrate or sit still
  • Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Poor performance in school
  • Headaches or stomach aches
  • Self-harm such as cutting or burning
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide

What can you do to help your child?

When your child is dealing with mental illness, it’s your job to seek help. They may not have the ability or inclination to ask for help. The first thing you can do is to talk to your child’s doctor. Create an open dialogue with your child’s pediatrician. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to voice your concerns. Your child’s doctor can:

  • Diagnose a mental health condition
  • Recommend treatment options that may include:
    • Talking to a therapist
    • Prescribe needed medication

In addition to seeking help from your child’s doctor, you can support your child in other ways. This might include:

  • Seeking family therapy
  • Asking your child’s therapist how to deal with difficult behaviors
  • Informing your child’s teachers of their mental illness and providing suggestions for helping your child to succeed
  • Helping your child find ways to cope with stress
  • Creating and fostering a loving and supportive relationship with your child
  • Learning positive parenting and discipline techniques
  • Encouraging fun and continual bonding with your child

Mental illness is difficult for many parents to accept. No one wants to admit their child is struggling with something as big and scary as an eating disorder or schizophrenia. But readily admitting your child has a problem is often the first big step to helping them find the help they need. Treatment works!