Mental Health is one of the last health concerns that is a taboo subject. Especially the mental health of children.
May is Mental Health for Children awareness month. Recently, Arch Gen Psychiatry found that half of all mental illnesses begin by age 14.
So often, the stigma of a mental illness diagnosis, combined with the uncertainty of what is ‘normal’ for children through development stages make it hard to recognize when a child might need help.
Mental illness is difficult to navigate because it is so personal and nebulous. But, like any illness, it is not the individual’s fault, any more than it is someone’s fault when they get the flu or pneumonia. And just like physical illnesses, treatment is often necessary.
Mental illness might be a temporary struggle, like the flu. For example, it is not uncommon for children to develop mild depression, especially if a recent upheaval occurred, like a move or a death in the family.
Mental illness might also be more severe, and even deadly, just like other illnesses. In order to identify serious concerns, the following list can help.
Has your child recently demonstrated:
- Problems across a variety of settings, such as at school, at home, or with peers
- Changes in appetite or sleep
- Social withdrawal, or fearful behavior toward things your child normally is not afraid of
- Returning to behaviors more common in younger children, such as bed-wetting, for a long time
- Signs of being upset, such as sadness or tearfulness
- Signs of self-destructive behavior, such as head-banging, or a tendency to get hurt often
- Repeated thoughts of death.
(list courtesy of the National Institute of Mental Health)
Have you spoken with your pediatrician? Do. And bring any specific concerns you have. Ultimately you and your pediatrician know your child best. Be very honest with the pediatrician. He or she will not be shocked by anything – doctors have heard and seen it all – and he or she will be able to identify concerning trends.
You are NOT alone. But if your child has a mental illness, you need to get him or her care and treatment. Speak with your pediatrician, and work closely with them.
As you move through this process, there are a number of other resources available.
Please note: be sure to reach out to medical professionals immediately. Doctors will get to know your specific child. The internet can have some fantastic information, but it is also rife with incomplete or sensationalized information. But these resources can also offer support and guidance to supplement and inform your medical action plan.
If you are worried about insurance: The Affordable Care Act mandated that mental health care was an Essential Health Benefit, and every health plan must offer coverage for it. Speak to your specific insurance company for details of the coverage.
It is time to de-stigmatize mental illness and recognize that it is an illness. Early intervention and diagnosis can improve effectiveness of treatment and outcome. Be sure to speak with your pediatrician today, not just about the sniffles or growth patterns of your child, but about their emotional and mental health as well.