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What Parents Should Know About Mental Illness in Children

Mental Illness in Children

When you are the parent of a child with a recent mental health diagnosis or who you suspect could be struggling with mental illness, it can be very confusing and upsetting. You may feel hopeless, helpless, and isolated. Highland Hospital is here to help. We offer compassionate, effective treatment to children and adolescents with mental health conditions, and we educate parents in how to best help their children manage their condition going forward. 

Signs of Mental Illness in Children

Recognizing that your child might be dealing with more than the usual amount of childhood or adolescent angst can sometimes be a challenge. Knowing what to look for may make it easier to know if your child needs professional support:

Emotional Signs

  • They are having mood swings that don’t seem to line up with what is happening.
  • They don’t seem to find joy in their hobbies anymore.
  • They seem withdrawn from loved ones.
  • They indicate that they feel worthless.
  • They have started talking about wanting to die or saying things would be better for others if they were dead.

Behavioral Signs

  • They are neglecting their hygiene more than usual.
  • They are eating or sleeping a lot more or a lot less.
  • They seem to be lacking motivation.
  • Their grades have dropped.
  • They have started smoking, vaping, drinking or using drugs.
  • They have been engaging in self-harm.

How to Get Help for Your Child

If you are seeing the signs above, there are a few ways to get support for your child:

    • Your family doctor – there could be a medical cause for some of the symptoms above, and your child’s medical doctor can confirm or rule those out. They may also be able to make a referral for a mental health evaluation or therapy.
    • 988 – if you or your child would like to anonymously talk to someone who is trained in helping people through mental health crises, you can call or text 988 to reach a crisis counselor. They can also provide you with information about mental health providers in your area.
    • Your child’s school – the counselor at your child’s school may be able to connect you with local mental health resources and offer support to your child during the school day.

Rejecting Stigma and Myths Around Pediatric Mental Health

It is difficult enough to help your child manage their mental health. If you’ve been given misinformation about mental illness, it can be even more confusing. Some of the most common myths about pediatric mental health include:

    • Children don’t experience mental illness – around 35 percent of people with mental illnesses experienced onset by age 14, and nearly half were already symptomatic by age 18.
    • Meds will instantly cure kids who are mentally ill – medications don’t typically cure mental health conditions the way that an antibiotic cures a physical ailment. They treat a chemical deficiency in the brain that can come back when medications are stopped. This is why it is important for people with mental health concerns to also participate in therapy and learn coping skills.
    • Therapy is a waste of time for children – parents sometimes fail to understand that children learn and express themselves differently than adults. Their vocabularies aren’t as wide as an adult’s and they may struggle to find words to express how they feel. Children are often better able to express themselves through play and art.
    • Mental illness cannot be treated – there are numerous treatments for mental health diagnoses, including many different types of therapy, medications, and skill-building. There are also several lifestyle choices that can help children and adolescents manage their mental health, like eating healthy, getting regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and establishing routines.
    • Mental illness results from bad parenting – while child abuse and neglect certainly can contribute to mental illness, many children with mental health conditions have wonderful, loving homes, with appropriate levels of discipline. 
    • Kids diagnosed with mental illness are just going through a phase that they will outgrow – many people write off signs of mental illness as typical child or adolescent behavior. If you see numerous signs from the list above, this is more than a phase, and the young person probably needs professional support. Failing to recognize this delays treatment and makes recovery more difficult.

How to Get Help for Yourself

Watching your child struggle is incredibly difficult for a parent. If you find that you are needing support, you are not alone. Caregiver fatigue is a term that describes the exhaustion caregivers often feel after the prolonged stress of looking after someone with severe health issues, whether mental or physical. Symptoms of caregiver fatigue include:

  • Social isolation
  • Depression
  • Apathy
  • Headaches
  • Stomach issues
  • Difficulty sleeping

Highland Hospital has been serving West Virginia’s mental health needs for sixty years. We are proud to offer a range of mental health services to help the next generation have the best quality of life possible.

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