Signs of Mental Health Struggles in Your Child or Teen

Posted on July 3rd, 2013
Posted in Teens

Many parents fail to realize that mental health is not just an adult concern. According to the Harvard School of Medicine, one-half of all lifetime mental illnesses begin by the time the person is just 14. The vast majority (75 percent) of mental illnesses show up by the time a person reaches age 24.

Mental illness in children is a reality.  Children as young as 6 may be experiencing symptoms of autism spectrum disorders, oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder. Attention- deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) heads the list of childhood mental health disorders, affecting nearly 7 percent of children and teens in America.

A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report tells us that 20 percent of kids ages 3 to 17 are living with a mental health disorder. By the time kids approach their teen years, they will be facing illnesses such as anxiety disorder, depression, Tourette syndrome and more.  Fortunately, there are signs parents can look for before these illnesses have a chance to fasten too deeply in your child’s life.

Persistent Mood Shifts

If your child experiences an extreme change of mood that lasts for more than a couple of weeks, this could be a red flag that something is amiss. Other signs of potential mental illness include a child becoming overly active for a period of time and then, without warning, showing signs of sadness and despondency. This shift in mood from one extreme to another could be a sign of bipolar disorder. Hyperactivity without lethargy is normal in children. Hyperactivity cycling with lethargy on a regular basis is possibly a sign of early onset bipolar disorder. Around 1 million of the 3.4 million kids and teens with depression actually have early bipolar disorder.

Problematic Anxiety and Fear

All kids have fears and anxieties. It is normal to feel afraid of the dark, the unknown and even to feel nervous about new social situations. When these normal fears and anxieties are taken to excess however, they can become problematic. Any time that anxiety or fear starts to interfere with your child’s ability to function normally, it is reason to take a closer look.

Negative Behaviors

It is pretty standard fare for youngsters and teens to question authority and test the limits. Kids want to know where the line is and how secure their parameters really are. However, when children or teens act out negatively just to cause disruption or defy authority simply for the satisfaction of being defiant, then there is cause for concern. Out-of-control negative behaviors could signal oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder. The sooner that these disorders are identified and addressed, the better.

Other concerning symptoms parents should watch out for include: refusal to eat, trouble concentrating, repeated drug or alcohol use or self-injury. This is not a comprehensive list and it cannot fully identify how the symptoms line up with a potential mental illness. Nonetheless, parents who note these sorts of changes in behavior or emotional state should make a point to seek help in understanding in these behaviors signal a mental health disorder.

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