Caring for Your Child's Mental Health

By Eliz­a­beth Kuri­an, D.O.

There are 7.7 mil­lion chil­dren in the Unit­ed States with a treat­able men­tal health dis­or­der that have not received treat­ment from a men­tal health pro­fes­sion­al1. Anx­i­ety, depres­sion and behav­ioral dis­or­ders are the most com­mon psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­or­ders among chil­dren. By being aware of behav­iors asso­ci­at­ed with men­tal ill­ness­es, you can help pro­vide your child the resources they need and pro­mote good men­tal health. 

Caus­es of men­tal illness

The caus­es of psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­or­ders in chil­dren remain unknown but research sug­gests that bio­log­i­cal and envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors may play a role. Most life­time cas­es of men­tal ill­ness begin by age 142. Some trig­gers include: 

• Death of a loved one

• Fam­i­ly stres­sors such as divorce, pover­ty or child act­ing as a caregiver

• Edu­ca­tion­al difficulties

• Long-term phys­i­cal illness

• Fam­i­ly his­to­ry of men­tal illness

• Phys­i­cal or men­tal abuse such as bullying

Signs to look for in children

Chil­dren dis­play dif­fer­ent signs of poor men­tal health com­pared to adults. Often this is a result of the child not being able to express their thoughts and feel­ings thor­ough­ly. If you sus­pect any self-harm, seek help immediately.

• Decline in aca­d­e­m­ic per­for­mance and/​or reoc­cur­ring refusal to go to school

• Con­stant wor­ry, irri­tabil­i­ty, fid­get­ing and/​or dif­fi­cul­ty concentrating 

• Fre­quent out­bursts, dis­obe­di­ence or aggres­sion, typ­i­cal­ly last­ing longer than six months

• Sad­ness last­ing two or more weeks

• With­draw­ing from or avoid­ing social interactions

• Dras­tic changes in mood, behav­ior or personality

• Changes in eat­ing habits or weight loss 

• Dif­fi­cul­ty sleep­ing and nightmares

• Fre­quent headaches or stomachaches

When should I seek pro­fes­sion­al help?

If your child’s behav­iors last longer than two weeks and begin to impact their every­day life at home, school or time with friends, they may ben­e­fit from speak­ing to a licensed ther­a­pist. A ther­a­pist can eval­u­ate your child’s men­tal health to diag­nose, treat and pro­vide ways to cope with issues they may be fac­ing. Aside from talk ther­a­py, a coun­sel­ing ses­sion may also uti­lize play ther­a­py for younger chil­dren. Play ther­a­py can help chil­dren mod­i­fy their behav­iors, learn inter­per­son­al skills and learn how to prop­er­ly express emo­tions. Child psy­chol­o­gists can also teach you and your child ways they can bet­ter their men­tal health. 

How to pro­mote good men­tal health

• Invite your child to join you in prob­lem-solv­ing com­mon things that lead to argu­ments or prob­lems in the home. This encour­ages the child to build prob­lem-solv­ing skills and shows that you respect their feel­ings and needs.

• Help the child keep in touch with fam­i­ly and friends, in a safe manner

• Try to estab­lish a routine

• Ensure your child is phys­i­cal­ly active and eats a healthy, bal­anced diet

• Encour­age your child to talk about their feelings

• Work with your child’s school to pro­vide behav­ioral resources and sup­port as needed

• Pro­mote play­time and creativity

• Pro­vide uncon­di­tion­al love includ­ing secu­ri­ty and accep­tance even if a child makes a mistake

• Sup­port con­fi­dence and activ­i­ties that pro­mote high-self esteem

• Be a reli­able role mod­el – ensure that you are fol­low­ing the rules your­self that you set for your child3

If you think you or your child would ben­e­fit from speak­ing to a licensed ther­a­pists, sched­ule an appoint­ment by call­ing 815−942−6323 or by vis­it­ing ipdhealth​.com.

1Whit­ney, PhD, D. G., & Peter­son, PhD, M. D. (2019, Feb­ru­ary 11). US Nation­al and State-Lev­el Preva­lence of Men­tal Health Dis­or­ders and Dis­par­i­ties of Men­tal Health Care Use in Chil­dren. In JAMA Net­work. Retrieved from https://​jamanet​work​.com/​j​ourna…

2Pro­mot­ing Aware­ness of Chil­dren’s Men­tal Health Issues (2017, August). In Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion. Retrieved from https://​www​.apa​.org/​a​d​v​o​c​acy/h…

3Kane, S. (2016, July 18). How to Pro­mote Your Child’s Good Men­tal Health. In Pysch­Cen­tral. Retrieved from https://​psy​ch​cen​tral​.com/​blog/…

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