Mental illness in the lives of children is far more common than most of us might think. In a recent survey done by Kids Help Phone, of 1452 kids between 12 and 15, 58% said they had either been diagnosed with a mental illness or were close with someone who had.
Any parent can tell you that children have moods that change faster than a commercial break. As they grow, and hormone levels furiously try to readjust, it’s easy to think your child has taken a sip of Dr. Jekyll’s elixir. So how can you tell a phase from a problem?
Two of the main types of mental illness in children are: depression and anxiety disorders. Here are some symptoms to look for:
- Mood swings that are not dependent on what’s happening in the moment.
- Sadness, with or without crying. This sadness is not related to a recent situation like a break-up or exam failure.
- Irritability, but not just with parents. The child is grumpy with everyone, including their friends.
- Low energy, not due to lack of sleep or any medical issues.
- Low motivation and no interest in things that they used to like. This change in interest is not due to the change in interest of their peers.
- Sleep problems: either too much sleep or too little. This is more than just a tween staying up later and sleeping in. It is a persistent problem that cannot be linked to anxiety over a test or other temporary situations.
- Thoughts of death or suicide. These thoughts are not linked to a friend who is into “dark” things or the child’s role models.
If you think your child might be depressed, there are things you can do to help and treatment options.
There are different types of anxiety disorders, such as phobias about insects or public speaking, and there are different levels of anxiety. Here are some things to look for:
- Often complains of a stomach ache or tummy butterflies and doesn’t want to go to school. “If you dig a little deeper, you usually find out that there’s a test or there could be a bully at school” says child psychologist Sandra Mendlowitz. “It’s really important to ask what’s going on at school.”
- Excessive distress when a child is separated from a parent or knows that a separation is coming up.
- Is preoccupied with and very worried about harm coming to a parent or parents.
- Does not speak to outsiders or is unable to speak when someone directs conversation their way. This is called selective mutism and is an early form of a social phobia.
- Is excessively self-conscious in social situations.
- Has a fear of being watched and judged by others.
- May sweat, blush, vomit or tremble in social situations.
- Is excessively upset when exposed to something they are scared of.
To learn more about anxiety and for solutions, watch Childhood Anxiety: Nipping it Early.