The recent news and statistics about youth and mental health are very alarming and frightening, especially for parents:
- Youth suicide attempts have doubled in the last decade, with some children as young as five years old.
- One in five children in the United States has a diagnosable mental illness.
- Over two million youths ages 12–17 have been diagnosed with major depressive episode (MDE), with its prevalence rising from 8.66% in 2012 to 13.01% in 2017.
- 30% of children and adolescents suffer from anxiety, showing a 17% increase in anxiety disorder diagnoses in the past 10 years.
But fret not, mental health experts say that early treatment — which includes therapy and medication — can help prevent severe, lasting problems as a child grows up. The earlier the treatment, the more effective it can be.
Unfortunately, at least 85% of children in need of mental health treatment do not have access to it. Part of the reason is that parents have difficulty identifying whether their child needs psychiatric evaluation and treatment.
Why is it hard for parents to recognize mental illness in their children?
All children go through different emotions and struggles. In fact, they’re developmentally expected to have temper tantrums, meltdowns, and outbursts at some point. However, there are times that these behaviors could be signs of underlying problems. It can therefore be tough to determine if a certain behavior is just part of growing up or a possible issue that requires professional help.
To differentiate between the two, pay attention to how long the behavior lasts, how severe it tends to be, and whether it impacts a child’s ability to function or affects other people. For example, if their outbursts are interfering with their daily life at home or school, then you should seek a mental health professional. The same goes for if your child goes through extended meltdowns that make you late for work every day.
What are the warning signs that help spot mental illness in children?
To make it easier for parents to identify if they should get professional help for their child, a group of mental health experts (led by Mayo Clinic psychiatrist Peter Jensen, who is the president of the Resource for Advancing Children’s Health) came up with a list of signs that helps separate warning signs of mental illness from typical childhood behavior.
Two federal agencies, the Center for Mental Health Services and the National Institute of Mental Health, funded the testing of the list against 6,000 children with diagnosed psychiatric disorders and found that the signs can be used to detect 8% of the 15% youth estimated to have mental illness.
Here are the 11 warning signs parents should look out for:
- Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still that puts them in physical danger or causes school failure
- Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities
- Sudden overwhelming fear without reason, sometimes accompanied by a racing heart rate or fast breathing
- Feelings of intense sadness or withdrawal for two or more weeks
- Extreme mood swings that cause problems in relationships
- Drastic changes in behavior or personality
- Not eating, throwing up, or using laxatives to induce weight loss
- Repeated use of alcohol or drugs
- Severe, out-of-control behavior that can hurt oneself or others
- Serious attempts or plans to harm or kill oneself
- Involvement in multiple fights, use of a weapon, or serious intention to hurt others
What should you do if you suspect your child has a mental health disorder?
If your child exhibits any of the 11 warning signs, consult a mental health professional. They will be able to give an accurate diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment to support your child’s continued growth and development.
Meridian Psychiatric Partners provides specialized mental health services for children and adolescents. We work collaboratively with our patients, their families, schools, and pediatricians, to provide early intervention. When you work with us, you can be sure that your child receives competent, comprehensive, and compassionate care. Book an appointment with us today.