As children develop, their emotions and behaviors can shift drastically and rapidly. Even children growing up in healthy, loving environments can at times become irritable, aggressive, anxious, or melancholic. Many children may also find it difficult to pay attention to the same thing for extended periods, to sit still, to follow instructions, or to interact constructively with adults and peers. Many of these challenges are simply part of a child’s normal development and may resolve themselves with time and guidance from adults. However, in certain cases, they may also be signs of an underlying mental health issue.
Mental disorders have become an increasingly urgent public concern in the last few years. In addition to more adults reporting increasingly intense and sustained mental health issues, current research also shows that more and more adolescents and children show signs of poor mental health. Many mental disorders can begin manifesting in a person’s formative years, including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), eating disorders, and many more. Identifying these conditions and treating them accordingly can make a lasting impact on a child’s long-term psychological well-being and their ability to function healthily in adulthood.
Fortunately, there are plenty of mental health resources available to parents and teachers concerned about the mental well-being of children under their care. Parents sending their children to an international elementary school in Singapore and other reputable academic institutions, for example, can depend on robust guidance and counseling programs that help support students’ mental health. Quality literature on current best practices in mental health and how these might be applied specifically to particular age groups is also readily available.
This feature will provide a brief look at how to identify potential mental health problems in children and will recommend some steps that concerned adults can take.
Spotting Signs of Poor Mental Health in Children
Many mental health problems go undiagnosed in children because adults are unable to tell which feelings and behaviors indicate normal developmental phases and those that present cause for concern. As a general rule, one should consider seeking help if a child’s behavior interferes with their daily functioning, causes them or those around them significant distress, or persists for a few weeks or even longer periods. Adults should also seek immediate support for children who mention wanting to hurt themselves or others, as well as those engaging in unsafe behaviors.
Children with mental health issues may exhibit noticeable changes in terms of their physical condition, behaviors, and emotional state. Here are some common identifying signs to watch out for:
At times, poor mental health in a child may manifest physically in readily observable ways, such as:
- Rapid weight loss
- Poor or disrupted sleep
- Altered eating habits, such as binge eating or poor appetite
- Hair loss
- Increasingly frequent stomachaches or headaches
- In younger children, increased incidence of bed-wetting
Changes in behavior are an especially common indicator of poor mental health and are often among the first things parents and teachers notice in struggling children. The following behavioral signs, for example, typically present a cause for concern:
- Discussing self-harm, suicide, and other morbid topics
- Losing interest in activities they were interested in previously
- Isolating self from others, even close friends and family
- Difficulty focusing
- Declining academic performance
- Skipping school
- Becoming clingier toward parents and other loved ones (in younger children)
Mental health issues will have a significant impact on a child’s emotional state and may cause heightened moodiness, agitation, or aggression. In particular, adults should look out for the following emotional signs:
- More frequent crying
- Angry, irritable, or aggressive outbursts, particularly if these occur unprompted
- Persistent boredom or apathy
- Sustained anxiety
- Sadness or depression
How Adults Can Help Kids Struggling with Mental Health Issues
If you’re worried about the mental health of your student or child, the first thing you should do is talk with others who interact with that child frequently. Parents and teachers who meet up to compare notes about a particular child’s behavior will likely have enough evidence to tell if mental health support is required. It will also help to discuss these observations with a pediatrician or other healthcare provider. In addition to providing valuable insight into your child’s condition, they can also refer you to a mental health professional who specializes in treating children.
Communicating at length with your child’s mental health care provider can improve the quality of care even before treatment begins. These conversations help build trust between you and the mental health professional, can help guarantee your child’s safety, and even improve the efficacy of the treatment. Some important questions to ask potential treatment providers include the following:
- How long will the treatment last?
- Are your treatment methods and approaches supported by current research?
- How are parents and family members to be involved in the treatment process?
- Will there be “homework” or tasks to complete between therapy sessions?
- How will the child’s progress be assessed throughout the treatment period?
Depending on the specific situation, therapeutic interventions recommended for a child struggling with mental health problems may include psychotherapy, family counseling, medication, and more. You may also want to communicate with your child’s school regarding any academic accommodations they might require, whether for the short term or for the long term.
Although mental health issues in children can be concerning, rest assured that they are highly treatable, particularly when diagnosed early on. With sufficient support from family, their school community, and their treatment providers, your child has a good chance of recovering well and going on to live a healthy and fulfilling life.