Children’s Mental Illness Awareness Week has brought the warning signs of mental illness to the forefront of conversation. People often make the mistake of confusing behavioural problems with mental illnesses, which means that so many children are left undiagnosed.
1 in 10 children and young people between the ages of 5 and 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – which is the equivalent of three children in every class. In order to be able to treat these illnesses, it’s important to recognise the warning signs.
Mood Changes And Intense Feelings:
Severe mood changes and sudden intense feelings are some of the key indicators of a child having a mental health disorder. If you notice any erratic mood swings, tantrums or feelings of overwhelming fear in your child that last for more than two weeks, then it is within their best interest to consult with a specialist. These mood changes and irrational behaviours can lead to problems in relationships at school and at home and can lead to the child feeling isolated.
Behaviour Changes And Difficulty Concentrating:
Children sometimes go through phases of “pushing the boundaries” and “acting out” to see what they can and can’t get away with. These phases and infrequent outbursts are to be expected, but if your child has drastically changed their personality and behaviour to being aggressive and out-of-control, then this is a warning sign for having a mental health disorder.
These symptoms can be frequently fighting with other children, expressing a desire to hurt somebody and a loss of concentration/ desire to distract other people at school. It is important to remain patient with your child, reprimanding them can again lead to them feeling isolated and misunderstood.
Physical Harm And Substance Abuse:
Sometimes mental health conditions can lead to the child self-harming. Self-harming is the act of cutting or burning oneself – these acts can lead to suicidal thoughts and suicidal actions, so it is really important to notice these actions early on. Children who self-harm need to be treated with the upmost sensitivity, it is important to make them feel safe and understood. Some children also turn to substance misuse as a coping mechanism. These are severe and drastic symptoms and need to be treated in the right way.
Children who take these drastic measures are using their actions as a form of escapism, they will feel isolated, misunderstood and confused, so it is important to treat carefully and correctly. Consult with a professional and also suggest counselling as a way of your child talking through their feelings and actions.
Recognising Mental Illness In Other Children:
If you are either looking after someone else’s child or have decided to foster a child, then it is easy to mistake their symptoms of mental illness for misbehaviour. If you have not raised the child, then it is difficult to compare their mood swings, behaviour and actions to their usual self. The best thing that you can do for the child in this situation is to firstly ask them about their feelings and behaviour, make them feel safe and protected and never ignore the warning signs – consulting with a professional can either highlight an issue, or rule it out.
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