The Warning Signs of Mental Illness in Children

Though it is not something we like to consider, the fact is that children can develop the same mental health problems as their adult counterparts. Knowing how to recognize these symptoms and support your child through them can make all the difference in the world. Especially as, in most cases, the earlier you catch the signs the better treatment your child can receive.

As the adult in a child’s life, it is up to you to spot the symptoms and act. However, it can be difficult to do so as these are signs that are often mistaken for typical childhood behavior. With 1 in 5 children suffering from a diagnosable mental disorder, this is a stigma we must overcome in order to help those children in our care that are suffering.

So, what are the warning signs that you should look out for when it comes to your child’s mental health?

Mood Swings or Intense Feelings

Sadness, withdrawal or an intense feeling of melancholy can be indicative of an issue in your child’s mental health. Especially if these episodes last for two or more weeks at a time. If they are also accompanied by a sudden mood swing, from a happy state to this with little warning, then it can be a symptom of a mood disorder (such as depression).

Weight Fluctuation

Loss of appetite, vomiting frequently or taking laxatives in secret can be clear indicators of an eating disorder. As well as excessive denials of hunger at times you know they would usually be hungry. Anorexia and bulimia are serious issues, which can affect boys and girls, but not always easy to distinguish at first – however, the earliest intervention and treatment possible is necessary for the best clinical outcome.

A pickiness with food or adopting strange eating rituals, such as cutting food into specific shapes at every meal time without fail, can also be a sign. It should also be noted when children or teenagers are overeating, as this may be used as a coping method for much more serious issues in their life.

Sudden Behavior Changes

Swinging from outgoing to introverted, excitable to morose and other such extreme changes are not always necessarily a case of hormones. Though teenagers do tend to experience vast changes during their formative years, such a sudden change may be more indicative of their mental state than hormonal imbalance.

Unexplained Injuries

Though self-harm through cutting is a typically understood physical symptom of depression and mental disorders, there are others which can also be indicative. Bruising and burning may also be a sign, especially if there is no explanation for how these injuries came to be. Be aware that self-injuries may be hidden on areas of the body which are often covered, such as on their thighs or other less obvious parts of the body.

Children with mental health conditions may also be prone to suicidal thoughts or may actually attempt suicide. So, ensure that you offer support in this situation to avoid this extreme course of action.

Substance Abuse

Discovering that a child is abusing substances is one of the biggest red flags when it comes to mental health. If a child has turned to drugs or alcohol to cope with their poor mental health, it is integral to intervene as soon as possible in order to prevent more long-lasting issues such as addiction.

Overall, if you sense there is something unusual about your child’s behavior you should attempt to seek professional advice. As a parent, unease at your child’s behavior should not be overlooked and trusting these feelings can help you to help your child in the long term.

You can also view the infographic that inspired this piece by Lorimer Fostering – who are fighting to help distinguish bad behavior and mental illness throughout the fostering community.

Note: This article was written by Zack Haliwell of Lorimer Fostering with the assistance of the fostering agency’s children’s psychologist.

About the author

Rachel Fink

Rachel Fink is a writer and mom of 7 kids. She keeps her sanity by keeping a stash of chocolate and coffee nearby.

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