Children of all ages, even as young infants, can experience mental health problems. It’s easy to know your child needs help dealing with a fever or a broken bone, but mental health problems can be harder to identify. The tricky part of parenting is knowing the kinds of behaviors and moods that are usual for the stage of development your child is in – and when your child has gone beyond the norm and needs help.
One in five children and adolescents may have a mental health problem at any given time. It is important to remember that a child’s mental health is just as important as his/her physical health.
Almost two-thirds of all young people with mental health problems are not getting the help they need. Without help, these problems can lead to school failure, substance use and family trouble. Exposure to violence, death, abuse or neglect may lead to mental health problems in children.
A child’s age, stage of development and ability to communicate can make it difficult to distinguish between a mental health problem and natural development.
Some of these illnesses, such as anxiety disorders, eating disorders, mood disorders and schizophrenia, can occur in adults as well as children. Others, such as behavior and development disorders, elimination disorders, and learning and communication disorders, begin in childhood only, although they can continue into adulthood.
What are the symptoms of mental illness in children and/or adolescents?
Symptoms vary depending on the type of mental illness, but some of the general symptoms include:
- Does poorly in school
- Gets into fights constantly
- Worries all the time
- Maintains patterns of repetitive activity, and these actions interfere with school attendance, sleep or appetite
- Frequently worries about death
- Never seems to laugh or smile
- Has trouble making friends because of aggressive or frightening behavior
- Can’t stay with one activity as long as other children
- Doesn’t seem to listen to instructions
- Acts without thinking
- Uses drugs or alcohol
- Displays babyish behavior which should have been outgrown long ago, like clinging, wetting or soiling
- Displays sexual behavior that is more than normal curiosity
- Repeatedly plays with fire
- Is cruel to animals
- Hears voices or sees things that aren’t there
You may also want to visit our Children’s Mental Health Matters Campaign website with detailed information and resources for Maryland families and those who work with and care for them.