Symptoms of Mental Illness in Your Child

Hi everyone! I’m Michelle Ainsworth Swilling, therapist here at Wellspring Renewal Center. I really can’t believe it’s already August and school is starting back. With school and our kids in mind, I thought I would spend a little time today talking about the mental health of our children. School can be a wonderful place for children to make friends, express themselves, expand their minds, etc… but all too often school can also be a source of anxiety and/or depression due to difficulties they may experience with academics or socially.

     As parents, we have an overwhelming desire to protect our children starting the first day they’re born. Rashes, broken bones, fevers… We’ve got that, but when our child begins to have problems at school, with friends, behaviorally or emotionally, well, that’s harder. While we hope our kids never have to deal with any mental health issues, it’s important to be aware. You can talk to almost any teacher or professional that works with children and you will find that there is a consensus of worry about the mental health of kids. I’ve actually been both of those in my life, a teacher and counselor in the public schools for 12 years, and then a mental health professional working with children and their families. I’m also a parent, so I have knowledge of this subject from all sides. Did you know that 1 in 5 children will deal with a mental health problem by the time they are 14? And that anxiety and depression is at an all time high in all age groups, but especially in kids. So today I’m wondering, do you know how to spot some of the signs of mental illness in your child? These signs or symptoms I’ll be talking about apply to all kids, but might look a little different depending on the age of your child. I’m going to break these into 2 broad areas, emotional or mood related symptoms, and behavioral symptoms.

     Let’s look at emotional symptoms first.  Kids of all ages are moody at times- They get frustrated, irritated, sad…Just be aware if these changes are sudden, very intense, or prolonged. You’ll want to look for these emotional symptoms:

  • Bouts of melancholy
  • Intense Anger
  • Very poor concentration, or inability to finish tasks
  • Constant worry, or extreme fears. They may even have nightmares, or be afraid to go to bed
  • Being very, very negative
  • poor self esteem
  • Lack of energy
  • Poor motivation
  • Wanting to be alone more
  • They may complain of headaches, stomach aches or other physical ailments much more frequently and with no medical reason.
  • Or they may be having extreme mood swings, where it seems they are just unable to control their emotions.

The next set of symptoms is behavioral symptoms:

  • look for drastic changes in personality, like going from outgoing to introverted, from normally fairly happy to morose.
  • poor school performance
  • changes to their eating…overeating, not eating very much, or throwing up when there’s no illness.
  • overly concerned or almost obsessed with their appearance or weight
  • becoming defiant, volatile, or physically aggressive
  • constantly defying authority
  • crying easily or often
  • difficulty with friendships, trouble making or keeping friends…always seeming to be in “fight” with a friend
  • avoiding friends and family…just wanting to be alone most of the time
  • Changes in sleep….sleeping too much or too little…always tired
  • Look for unexplained injuries….Self harm is very serious and can manifest in different ways. It could be cuts or scrapes, bruises that are not easily explained, burns. Your child may pinch themselves, pull their hair, bang their head. Even constantly picking at scabs or biting fingernails can be a sign of anxiety.
  • Also be aware if your child is having dark thoughts, talking about or even joking about taking their life
  • a preoccupation with death
  • Saying things like, “I wish I wasn’t here.’”…..”I wish I’d never been born”.
  • Pay attention to what your child might be writing or posting on social media….
  • Listening to music with very dark or depressing lyrics

     We’ve all seen and heard statistics about suicide, and in children ages 10-14 its at a 200% increase. If you have any indication or question about your child’s mental health, take action. By taking action, we’re showing our kids that we love them, how much they mean to us and they’re family. So what if they get upset or angry, getting them help now and healthier for a lifetime is so worth it. And I promise they wont stay angry long when they begin to feel better and not feel so alone. We all try so hard to be the best parent possible but in spite of that, mental health issues can occur, and even the very best parents can find themselves needing to address mental health problems in their kids lives.

With all the stress our kids are dealing with, we have to focus on keeping them healthy in all areas including mental health. Remember the problems your kids have are so huge to them. Just as big as ours are to us. As adults though, we have the ability to see that problems can and will be temporary, but with kids it can seem to them that this thing they’re dealing with will never change, it just feels too overpowering, they literally are not equipped to handle all the emotions coming at them. Sometimes they can’t even put it into words. You’re their parent, if you feel that the moods, and behaviors are lasting too long, or they are too intense, the behavior is completely out of character, and your gut is telling you this is not a phase that is just going to go away…. Please reach out for help.

     As a first step, you could go see your child’s primary care doctor who could steer you in the right direction. Or you could certainly find your own therapist. It’s just important to get you and them the help and resources that you need. I know how difficult it can be to navigate all of this on your own so please reach out. I would be happy to talk with you, evaluate your child, and help you and your child develop an action plan if there is a problem. I’ve worked with 100s of children and teens for well over 20 years. So if I can help you in any way …please let me know.  Thank you so much for reading and have a great day!

[Be on the lookout for more blog posts coming from Michelle Ainsworth.  In her upcoming posts, she’ll continuing to focus on children’s mental health. Topics like “How to talk to your kids about their mental health”, and “Tips to help your anxious or depressed child.” Don’t miss out. Subscribe today! ]


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