The following information for families about mental health concerns in children is provided by Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters
Understanding the issue
Over the past two decades, medical experts have made great strides in the understanding and treatment of mental health problems. Just a generation ago, many people believed that personality weaknesses or character flaws caused mental health problems and that people with mental illnesses could “snap out of it” if they just tried hard enough.
Today, doctors know that mental health problems have nothing to do with being lazy or weak. Instead, mental health issues usually arise from some combination of the following:
- Biological factors like brain chemistry, illness, injury or genetics
- Life experiences like trauma or abuse
Research has also shown that mental health problems often begin in childhood and can be among the most dangerous illnesses children face. Consider the following statistics from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- 50 percent of mental illness starts before the age of 14
- 75 percent of all mental illness is present before the age of 24
- Suicide is the second-leading cause of death in young people ages 15-24.
- Suicide is the third-leading cause of death children ages 10-14.
It’s important for parents to recognize symptoms of mental illness so they can seek help for their children. Below are symptoms that may indicate a problem.
- Problems in a variety of settings (home, school, with peers or family members)
- Significant changes in sleep or appetite
- Social isolation (withdrawing from friends/activities they once enjoyed)
- Self-destructive behavior such as head banging or cutting
- Mood fluctuation with very little time when they are “in control”
- Talk about death/dying, e.g. “It would be easier if I wasn’t here.”
Most people with mental health problems need help to get better. Early identification and treatment can get your child/adolescent on the right path to good overall health. Unfortunately, less than 20 percent of children and adolescents with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need. Knowing what to do or where to turn when your child is suffering can be a difficult challenge.
But remember, you know your child best. If you are concerned, talk with your child’s pediatrician or primary medical provider. Initiate the conversation, discuss your concerns, and make a plan to get help. Be your child’s best advocate. Parents have an important role in determining when and how to access help and support. Don’t fear making tough decisions. Children need to know that you will keep them safe and support them in any way that you can.
Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has many options for assessment, evaluation, and treatment for mental health concerns. Our team of licensed clinicians can assist in providing a comprehensive evaluation, brief goal-directed outpatient treatment and referral to specialists for additional treatment options if needed. We treat children, teens and young adults. We specialize in treating children with chronic health issues, depression, anxiety, and developmental concerns. Our model offers many evidence based treatment options, with specialized training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Family Based Therapy for Feeding/Eating Disorders, Play Therapy, and more.
Take care of yourself too. Connect with others. Mental health issues can feel stigmatizing and lead to social isolation. Reach out to local organizations such as NAMI, establish your own connection with a therapist or counselor, seek support from good friends, family members, etc. You are not alone in this journey. It impacts the whole family.
Finally, please remember that everyone’s journey is different. We often tell parents that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Keep hope alive, and don’t give up. People with mental health problems can get better and many recover completely.
Myths and Facts
Myth: Personality weakness or character flaws cause mental health problems. People with mental health problems can snap out of it if they try hard enough.
Fact: Mental health problems have nothing to do with being lazy or weak and many people need help to get better. Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:
- Biological factors, such as genes, physical illness, injury, or brain chemistry
- Life experiences, such as trauma or a history of abuse
- Family history of mental health problems
Myth: Prevention doesn’t work. It is impossible to prevent mental illnesses.
Fact: Prevention of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders focuses on addressing known risk factors such as exposure to trauma that can affect the chances that children, youth, and young adults will develop mental health problems. Promoting the social-emotional well-being of children and youth leads to:
- Higher overall productivity
- Better educational outcomes
- Lower crime rates
- Stronger economies
- Lower health care costs
- Improved quality of life
- Increased lifespan
- Improved family life (mentalhealth.gov)
For more information visit our website: https://www.chkd.org/Our-Doctors/Medical-Specialists/Psychiatry/