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Myth Buster : Children do not have Mental Health Issues

In 2020, the WHO reported a significant rise in the number of people facing anxiety and depression. Whereas, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of adolescent mortality. Only 1% of the pediatric population receives medical attention for mental health issues. In addition, 7.3% of adolescents have mental health problems. Furthermore, 50% of mental health illnesses begin before the age of 14.


Raising a child means you are always met with a new challenge. There is no foolproof guidebook to keep them satisfied; emotional changes like anger, sadness, irritability, aggression, etc. are common developmental phases. But these might at times be signaling some more serious issues related to their mental health. Mental health issues are the overall wellness of our emotional and psychological state and social behavior. A mental illness or mental health issue is a condition defined as disturbances or changes in cognition, emotion, or behavior that may impair a person's ability to function. These are mostly driven by factors like family, school, work, the social environment, or personal issues. These problems cause distress to a child’s mind and disturb their behavioral functions at home, in school, or in other social situations.


Subtle symptoms of mental health illnesses:

● Significant change of mood/skills
● Isolation, increase in screen time and decrease in activity
● Aggression
● Substance abuse
● Change in sleep/eating patterns


Reasons for under diagnosis:

● Social stigma and labelling
● Lack of awareness
● Lack of mental health prognosis and facilities for children

● Lack of teamwork -parent, teachers, and Doctor
● Lack of communication
● Decreased referrals


Childhood Mental Health Disorders :
It can be a challenge to identify the warning symptoms in children because they vary according to the child's age; additionally, children may not be able to communicate their feelings or explain their behavior. That is why one should educate themselves about the mental health or developmental disorders that are addressed by professionals, which include:


1. Anxiety Disorders: In children, it can cause persistent fears, worries or anxiety that prevent them from participating in play, school or typical age-appropriate social situations. Diagnoses include social anxiety, generalized anxiety and obsessive- compulsive disorders.
2. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Prevalence of ADHD is 1%. Although children generally are curious, children with ADHD have more difficulty with attention, impulsive behaviors, hyperactivity or some combination of these problems as compared to others.
3. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological condition in which a child has difficulty communicating and interacting with others. It usually appears in early childhood before age 3. The severity of ASD might vary in different individuals.
4. Eating Disorders : Eating disorders are defined as unsafe eating and dieting habits that occur due to fixation with an ideal body type, disordered thinking about weight and weight loss, or due to other mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. Eating disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder result in emotional and social distress that sometimes leads to severe physical disorders.
5. Depression and other Mood Disorders : The persistent feeling of sadness and lack of motivation or interest is called depression. This hampers a child' s ability to perform in school and interact with others. Bipolar disorder is another mood disorder that results in extreme mood swings between extreme emotional lows or behavioral highs that may be risky.
6. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) : PTSD is a disorder which is triggered in response to violence, abuse, injury or other traumatic events. Characterized by emotional distress, anxiety, nightmares and disruptive behaviors.
7. Schizophrenia : Schizophrenia is a disorder that affects a person’s ability to think and perceive reality (psychosis). Characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking and behaviors, schizophrenia usually appears in the late 20s.



Warning signs of mental health disorders that your child might be expressing include:

a) Persistent sadness lasting two weeks or more
b) Withdrawing from social interactions
c) Hurting oneself or expressing thoughts of hurting oneself
d) Talking about death or suicide
e) Outbursts of extreme irritability
f) Sudden changes in mood, behavior or personality that can sometimes be harmful
g) Unhealthy eating habits
h) Loss of weight
i) Difficulty sleeping
j) Frequent headaches or stomach aches
k) Difficulty concentrating
l) Avoiding school


What should you do if a mental health condition is suspected in a child?

The first thing to do if you suspect that your child might be struggling with mental health issues is to immediately consult the child' s health care provider. Also, get more details by talking to your child' s teacher, close friends, relatives, or other caregivers, and asking if they have observed any changes in your child' s behavior. Let the healthcare provider know about their medical history, emotional or physical trauma they have suffered, behavioral changes, etc.; it will help make their diagnosis.

Secondly, you need to understand and learn about their mental health issues to help them better. To be more aware of the ways to handle difficult behaviors or help them open up through conversations, seeking family counseling or enrolling in training programs can also be very effective.


Is mental health troublesome in children?
Yes, they are treatable, so you need to seek help as soon as possible. Common treatment
options involve:


● Early and correct diagnosis
● Communication and follow up
● Proper medication with psychotherapy
● Emotional security network


Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy or behavior therapy, is a treatment option in which your child talks to a psychologist or other mental health professional to address mental health concerns. For young children, psychotherapy may include playtime or games, during which they talk about their issues. This also trains children and adolescents to express their thoughts and feelings, manage their response to stress, and learn new behaviors and coping mechanisms.


Medication: Your child's mental health professional may prescribe medications as a part of their treatment plan, such as stimulants, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers. You must know all about the risks, side effects, and benefits of drug treatments before beginning any medication.


Most of the children with mental health issues are silent sufferers, as they do not quite understand nor can they express their situation well. These are the times when a parent needs to be vigilant to avoid complications. As a parent, you are the best person to help your child, as they look up to you. Work with your child, their healthcare professionals, and teachers at school to secure the necessary support. Concern about the stigma associated with mental illness, the use of medications, and the cost or logistical challenges of treatment can be a few factors that might prevent you as a parent from seeking care, but it is important to understand that no obstacle is bigger than your child’s life.

Medanta Medical Team
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