Mental health problems affect about 1 in 10 children and young people. They include depression, anxiety and conduct disorder, and are often a direct response to what is happening in their lives.
SIGNS TO SPOT
They get irritable, argumentative or aggressive towards you. They may blame you if things go wrong. They can also become withdrawn.
They may experience changes in eating and sleeping patterns.
They suddenly appear especially bored, lonely or withdrawn or they start to get into trouble. Losing interest in friends and other things they liked to do or missing school are common warning signs.
Refusing or being reluctant to talk about how they’re feeling is common. But keep listening and ask how they are feeling. When they do open up, make sure they know there’s someone there who really cares.
Things that can help keep children and young people mentally include:
• being in good physical health, eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise
• having time and the freedom to play, indoors and outdoors
• being part of a family that gets along well most of the time
• attending a nursery/school that looks after the well-being of all its children
• taking part in local activities for young children
WHAT MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS COMMONLY OCCUR IN CHILDREN?
• Depression affects more children and young people today than in the last few decades.
• Self-harm is a very common problem among young people. Some people find it helps them manage intense emotional pain if they harm themselves. They may not wish to take their own life.
• Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) can cause young people to become extremely worried. Very young children or children starting or moving school may have separation anxiety.
• Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can follow physical or sexual abuse, witnessing something extremely frightening of traumatising, being the victim of violence or severe bullying or surviving a disaster.
• Children who are consistently overactive (‘hyperactive’), behave impulsively and have difficulty paying attention may have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Many more boys than girls are affected, but the causes of ADHD aren’t fully understood.
WHERE CAN I GO FOR HELP?
There are many ways to help your child achieve good mental health. Sharing your concerns with the doctor is one of them. Talk to your child’s doctor:
• if the behaviours described above last for a while, or if they interfere with your child’s ability to function;
• if you have concerns about your child’s emotional and mental health;
• about your child’s behavioural development and emotional health at each visit.
Your child needs your support now more than ever. Before a child is diagnosed with a mental health condition, parents and children commonly experience feelings of helplessness, anger and frustration. Ask your child’s doctor for advice on how to change the way you interact with your child, as well as how to handle difficult behaviour.
Seek ways to relax and have fun with your child. Praise his or her strengths and abilities.