Mental Health Disorders are Common in Children

Mental Health Disorders are Common in Children

Recently, there has been an increased focus on the prevalence of mental health disorders and the lack of treatments available to them. While there have been significant strides made in the treatment of diseases such as cancer and diabetes, similar advances have not been made in the area of mental health. Fortunately, healthcare providers and the media have helped to bring some of the gaps in mental health treatment to light. While most people think about diseases such as schizophrenia and suicidial ideation when it comes to mental health, there is so much more to this disease area. While it may come as a surprise to some, children actually suffer from mental health disorders as well. It is important for parents to remain vigilant because these have the potential to impact the life of a child as they grow and progress into their college years and adulthood.

A Few Statistics: The Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders in Children

While the poster patients for most mental health disorders are adults, mental health problems can impact children as well. These come in a variety of types and severities; however, it is helpful to take a look at the prevalence of mental health disorders in children so that parents understand that their child is not alone. Among children aged 3-17, close to 7 percent of children suffered from ADHD, or attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder. Around 3 to 4 percent of children had developed conduct or behavioral issues. 3 percent of kids struggled with anxiety. 2 percent had developed depression. 1 percent of kids were suffering from autism spectrum disorder. Thinking about all of the various disorders in this survey, it is clear that mental health disorders are more common in children than most parents realize.

Depression Can Hit Anyone

Unfortunately, there is a stigma in society around mental health that is simply inappropriate. Many children struggle with depression. For some, depression can be brought about by a significant life stress or event such as a move, divorce, or death of a family member or friend. Sometimes, kids can have depression due to a fear of the future. Kids can even suffer from depression for no apparent reason at all. There are a few signs that parents should look out for. First, changes in sleep patterns including sleeping all of the time or not at all can be a sign of depression. Loss of interest in activities that used to be fun is another sign. Feelings of guilt over issues that aren’t even their fault is a sign that a child might be depressed. Finally, any sign of suicidal ideation should immediately be addressed. Kids often have anxiety that accompanies their depression which can manifest as worries about issues that are beyond their control or have no actual impact on them. Anxiety attacks can be harmful and could require medication to control them. If kids have signs of depression or anxiety, it is important to talk to them to see what is wrong; however, help from a medical professional should also be sought. Rescue medications could be needed to abort a severe anxiety attack.

Bipolar Disorder is Accompanied by Mood Swings

While this is slightly less common than depression, it is no less serious. Bipolar disorder manifests as separate episodes of depression and mania. While depression has been discussed as above, mania can be thought of as the opposite. Mania often manifests as episodes where children do not need any sleep. They will also engage in activities that are risky. They could try and gamble away their life savings, spend all of their parents’ money, or engage in high-risk behavior such as trying drugs, drinking alcohol, or having sex to extreme levels. Bipolar manic episodes are often followed by an acute crash that leads to a depressive episode. This can be a serious issue that requires the attention of a medical professional. There are effective treatment options available for controlling bipolar disorder.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Can Manifest in Many Ways

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is another mental health condition that can manifest in children. Often, it is seen in conjunction with other mental health problems such as depression or autism. OCD can develop over any number of different issues; however, the defining feature is that it has a negative impact on the life of the individual. For example, most children are taught to wash their hands regularly. This is a healthy habit to get into; however, if a child cannot leave the house until they have washed their hands repeatedly, five times, in the exact order, this would have a negative impact on his or her life and would be defined as OCD. Common OCD type behaviors could include eating in a certain way, turning a doorknob a certain way, or having to go to bed in an extended ritual. If parents have concerns about their child’s behavior, they should speak with an experienced mental health disorder so that the behaviors can be investigated further. OCD can be controlled if treated; however, if untreated, it could last for the rest of the child’s life.

Treatment Options are Available

When a child has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, it is understandable for the parents to feel a bit concerned and worried about what the future holds. It is important for parents and their children to understand that treatment options are available for a wide variety of mental health disorders. When children are diagnosed with a mental health disorder, there are several different choices that parents and their children have at their disposal. For example, it can be helpful to simply start with meeting with a school counselor or someone similar to discuss if the child has been manifesting similar symptoms at school. Then, this information can be taken in conjunction to the child’s medical provider. Using all of this information, the doctor may decide to go with counseling, outpatient therapy with medications, or even inpatient treatment in particularly severe situations. All of these treatments are used in different situations and some children may respond better to some therapies than others. This is why it is important to think about the benefits and side effects of every treatment option, along with the individual manifestations of the particular mental health disorder, before making a decision. Some children may require short-term therapy while others could benefit from life-long treatment. Every child, every story, and every condition is different. This is why different treatment options exist.

This only barely scratches the surface of mental health disorders in children and the variety of ways that it can manifest. Clearly, there are many different mental health disorders that can impact children and adolescents. Proper diagnosis is necessary for the right treatment to be intiated. It is vital to understand that a successful treatment hinges on the total commitment of not only the child but also their family. With the right attention, counseling, and treatment, children have the potential to make a full recovery. Being diagnosed with a mental illness is not an indictment on anyone’s child or parenting ability; however, it does mean that the support of the child’s friends and family are needed.


David R is a writer who contributes to the Academy Alert.

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