Identifying mental disorders in children can be tricky for health care providers as children’s normal childhood development is a process that involves changes and they evolve with time. As they are still processing the learnings of how to cope with, adapt, and relate to others and the world around them. Often many behaviors that are seen as symptoms of psychiatric illness, such as shyness, anxiety (nervousness), strange eating habits, and temper tantrums, can occur as a normal part of a child’s development. They can be differentiated from behavior that’s not problematic by how long the behavior lasts, occur at an unusual age, or cause significant disruption to the child’s and/or family’s ability to function.
The prevalence of mental disorders among children has been reported to be 14-20% in India. The issue of childhood psychiatric morbidity is getting more serious due to the obliviousness of society regarding mental health and its issues. Children are more prone to risk as it is still considered an “adult issue”.
Furthermore, these are the reasons that make it more prevalent for parents to address the issue and read the signs of mental health of their child. The diagnosis of a mental disorder can be done by studying how well a child functions at home, within family, at school, and with peers, as well as the child’s age and symptoms.
Here are the few warning signs that parents should watch for:
- The incapability in expressing their feelings to you, or they may be unwilling to
- Disturbance in the sleep cycle, emotional or sudden vocal outbursts
- An intense rage of emotions and overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing
- Expressing negative thinking, become self-critical, or talking about death or dying
- Extreme difficulty in concentrating
Outlook for children with mental illness
The dire need is to stimulate long-term and sustained improvement in children’s psychological wellbeing, by setting standards for high-quality integrated mental and health care for children from before birth, right through to adulthood. There are various treatments available for diagnosing and managing mental illnesses in children, including educational or occupational interventions, specific forms of psychotherapy (Interpersonal and cognitive behavioral therapy), and several effective medications.
Participation of parents in both the evaluation and the treatment of the child is also very essential as younger children are often more comfortable with the involvement of their caregivers and family. On the other hand, protective factors for childhood mental illness should include preventing exposure to community violence, having the involvement of supportive adults, strong, consistent family and peer relationships, healthy coping skills, and emotional regulation.
Good mental health allows children and young people to develop the resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults. If the children are suffering from any mental illness, know that there’s help available and that you are not alone and can lead a healthy, active life.
Inputs by Dr JPS Bakshi, Founder, Dr. Bakshi’s Healthcare