Today I would like to share a guest post written for InvisiblyMe on the topic of children’s mental health, specifically on the warning signs of mental illness. Thank you for sharing, Alice!
The Warning Signs of Children’s Mental Illness
Children’s mental health recognition is a skill that we should all possess. More often than not, children who suffer from a mental illness are labelled as being badly behaved rather than unwell, and are left undiagnosed and unaided. Between the ages of 5 and 16, 1 in 10 children suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder, which is the equivalent of 3 children in every classroom. In order to help these children out, we must begin to recognise the warning signs and differentiate them from misbehaviour.
Behaviour Changes and Difficulty Concentrating
It’s normal for children to push the boundaries and act out when they are younger; this is part of learning and growing up. But if a child continuously acts out at home or in the classroom, then this could be the sign of them having a mental health disorder. If a child’s behaviour has drastically changed and seems out of control, then it is a good idea to seek advice from a professional. The identifiable symptoms are frequently fighting and aggression, frequent loss of concentration and desire to distract other people at school and a drastic personality change. When you recognise these symptoms, it’s important to be understanding and patient, as shouting and reprimanding the child can result in them feeling isolated and misunderstood.
Mood Swings and Intense Feelings
Similar to behavioural changes, significant mood changes and mood swings are a key indicator of a mental health issue. If a child is acting out of character and has extreme highs and lows, then it is best to consult with a specialist to provide a safe and effective outlet for the child to work with. Some of the key symptoms are erratic mood swings, tantrums and overwhelmed feelings – this can range from bursting in to tears, to having inexplicable panic attacks.
Physical Harm and Substance Abuse
Some of the more drastic indicators of a mental health illness, more commonly associated with older children, are self-harming and substance abuse. Mental health conditions can result in a child feeling misunderstood, alone in the world and not fully in control of their thoughts or body – these feelings can lead to self-destructive actions, suicidal thoughts and in some worst case scenarios suicidal actions, as a way to escape from the way they are feeling. These are severe and extreme 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 the Signs
It’s easier to recognise these signs with your own child, as you know how they think, act and behave, so it’s more difficult when the signs are apparent in other children. Whether you’re a teacher, a child minder, or you have decided to foster a child, then it’s easier to pass a child’s mental illness off as misbehaviour. If you feel that a child is experiencing the symptoms of mental illness, then ask them about their feelings and behaviour and make them feel safe, understood and show that you are there to help. Never ignore a symptom or rule out an issue, as it can be extremely harmful to the child.
– Written by Alice Porter – Alice porter is a blogger for a fostering agency in Manchester. She is passionate about raising awareness about children’s mental illness.