Although most media coverage of mental health issues focus on the needs of adults, children can also suffer from mental health disorders. Children's Mental Health Awareness Week, observed May 1-7, aims to educate parents and caregivers about how to help children who are struggling.
Types of Mental Illness
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, just over 20% of children either currently have or have previously been diagnosed with a serious mental health disorder.
Some of the many different mental health conditions that can affect children include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Specific phobias
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
- Oppositional defiant disorder
- Reactive attachment disorder
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders
Understanding the Causes of Mental Illness
There is no way to accurately predict who will develop a mental illness, but researchers have been successful in identifying a number of risk factors that make people more susceptible to mental health struggles. These include:
- Having a parent, sibling, or other blood relative with mental illness
- Abuse or neglect
- Death of a loved one
- Divorce of parents
- Being involved in a serious car accident
- Being involved in a natural disaster
- Experiencing a traumatic brain injury
Psychiatric disorders in children are not linked to poor parenting, personal weakness, or a lack of willpower.
Signs of Mental Health Disorders in Children
The following are signs that a child may be suffering from a mental health disorder:
- Mood changes
- Angry outbursts
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of interest in friendships, family, and hobbies
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- Frequent complaints of headaches and stomach aches with no physical cause
- Trouble sleeping
- Attempts at self-harm
The ways in which children express their mental health concerns vary by age. In toddlers and elementary school students, it may be common for a child to experience separation anxiety. Young children may also regress in developmental milestones such as bed wetting after being previously toilet trained. For pre-teens and teens, substance abuse or engaging in risky sexual behaviors may be a cry for help.
Treating Mental Health Disorders
If you are concerned that your child is suffering from a mental health disorder, make an appointment with your pediatrician as soon as possible. He can conduct an initial evaluation and make a referral to a psychiatrist, psychologist, psychiatric nurse, counselor, social worker, or behavioral therapist.
Many parents are reluctant to seek help for their children due to a fear that medication will have side effects that could affect growth and development. Although antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or mood stabilizers may be recommended in some cases, many children will only require psychotherapy. Also known as talk therapy or behavioral therapy, psychotherapy helps children process their conflicting emotions and develop constructive coping skills for handling challenging situations.
Depending on the extent of the child's condition, it may be necessary to work with teachers and school administrators to develop a specialized academic plan. This plan can offer accommodations such as extra time for testing or permission to leave the classroom to visit with a school psychologist if the child is having a difficult time regulating emotions.
Although mental health disorders can't be “cured” in the same way you'd treat a physical illness or injury, children can learn to manage their condition to reduce the impact it has on their daily activities. However, success rates are highest when treatment is sought early on. Untreated emotional and behavioral issues will only progress into more complex conditions as a child ages.
Protecting Your Child’s Legal Rights
When a child's mental health disorder is related to trauma from an event such as an auto accident, compensation may be available through a personal injury claim. A malpractice suit may be appropriate if a child has suffered harm due to a healthcare provider’s misdiagnosis or delay in diagnosis.
Neblett, Beard & Arsenault is committed to helping Louisiana residents who've been injured due to the negligence of others receive the compensation they need to move forward with their lives. Please contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation.