By Katelyn Millinor, LPC
Mental health problems or disorders are surprisingly common in youth and children. The National Institute of Mental Health (NAMI) reports that 50% of all lifetime mental illnesses develop by age 14. However, differentiating the difference between expected behaviors and a mental illness can be tricky. In younger children, symptoms are typically behavioral as they are still learning how to deal with big emotions. Children can also have a hard time explaining how they feel or why they are behaving a certain way. Whether you are a parent, coach, teacher, religious leader, or just a trusted adult, you may be able to spot warning signs that a youth may need support or services.
Some common signs of mental illness in youth include:
- Sudden changes in behavior (for example: has an active child becoming withdrawn and quiet or a good student starting to get poor grades)
- Sudden change in feelings (for example: mood swings, lack of feelings)
- Avoiding places or situations that have not been routinely avoided
- New complaints of physical problems like headaches, stomach aches, problems eating or sleeping, or lack of energy
- Suddenly keeping to themselves or increased shyness
- Low self esteem
- Frequent outbursts, tantrums, or meltdowns
- Substance abuse
- New physical harm to self, others, or property
- Inattention or poor focus
- Refusing to go to school
- Difficulty with transitions within or between school, home, or social activities
- Thoughts of death or dying
This list is not a complete list of symptoms. It is important to seek a complete medical exam to rule out any medical issues. Diagnosing mental illness in children may take some time and involve questionnaires or assessments. Psychotherapy can be helpful to assist the youth and the guardian or family members in treating symptoms and learning new skills. Mediation may also be helpful in specific situations.
NOAH has a team of trained clinicians such as doctors, counselors, and psychiatrists to help on this journey. No family or child has to navigate this alone.