Health Advocate Blog

Protect your child’s mental well-being

Most of the time, common childhood physical problems are fairly easy to spot, whether it’s a cold, tummy ache or rash. A trip to the pediatrician may be all that’s required. But it’s not as easy to know if your child’s sadness, angry outbursts or some other emotional or behavioral problem is just part of normal child development or an indicator of something that requires professional help. A child’s mental health is as important as their physical health, and getting the right help is crucial, since mental, behavioral or emotional disorders can affect their future. Here are some questions and answers to help guide you.

How do I know if my child’s problems are serious?

Problems require attention when they are severe, persistent and affect daily activities.

Seek help if your child:

  • Is often sad, worried or fearful
  • Has dramatic changes in appetite or sleep needs
  • Is spending most of his or her time alone instead of with friends or family
  • Has declining grades or interest in school
  • Is hyperactive, impulsive or has trouble concentrating
  • Is self-destructive or overly aggressive toward others

Who should I see for help?

First, have your child seen by a doctor. Your doctor may recommend that you take your child to a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker or behavioral therapist.

How are mental disorders diagnosed in young children?

As with adults, disorders are diagnosed by observing signs and symptoms. A skilled professional will consider symptoms in the context of the child’s age and reports from parents and other caretakers or teachers.

Which mental disorders are commonly seen in children and teens?

  • Anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders such as panic or generalized anxiety are the most common mental health problems occurring in children and adolescents. According to one large-scale study of 9- to 17-year-olds, 13 percent of young Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder each year.
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This condition affects 3 to 5 percent of school-aged children. Its symptoms include poor attention and concentration, and high distractability and impulsiveness.
  • Depression. Up to 3 percent of children and up to 8 percent of adolescents suffer from depression. It affects mood, energy, interests, sleep, appetite and overall functioning. Symptoms are extreme and persistent and can interfere significantly with the ability to function at home or at school.
  • Bipolar disorder. This illness, which affects 1 percent of children, causes extreme shifts in mood, energy and functioning. Disruptive periods alternate with periods of withdrawal and other depressive symptoms.

How are children with mental health problems treated?

Sometimes, psychotherapies, behavioral strategies and family support may be all a child needs. In other cases, medications are needed to help the child cope. If medication is prescribed, the child should be monitored and evaluated regularly.

Left untreated, mental health disorders can lead to school failure, drug abuse, violence and even suicide. However, most children who receive the right kind of help improve and go on to live healthy lives. Seeking help early is crucial.

For more information, visit: