Parents, you can learn how to recognize warning signs of mental illness in children and how you can help your child. Our counselors can help you be all you can be for your child as you swallow this difficult news. The knowledge and acceptance of this truth isn’t an easy task, but it is an answer that can be built upon.
Mental Illness in Children
Mental health is the overall wellness of how you think, regulate your feelings, and behave. A mental illness, or mental health disorder, is defined as patterns or changes in thinking, feeling, or behaving that cause distress or disrupt a person’s ability to function.
When it comes to mental health in children, watch for red flags in the form of any obsessive or compulsive behavior. Maybe you catch them re-folding their clothes in order to achieve a feeling of perfection. Maybe they’re brushing their teeth in a certain manner or pattern. You may even notice nervous twitching, a gaited walk or hand flapping known as “stimming,” which is an overstimulated behavior.
Mental health disorders in children are generally defined as delays or disruptions in developing age-appropriate thinking, behaviors, social skills, or regulation of emotions. These problems are distressing to children and disrupt their ability to function well at home, in school, or in other social situations.
Simple family dinners can become regular battles. Fast-paced school schedules can overstimulate a mentally or neurologically stressed child. At the end of a long day, even taking a different route home can bring on panic. However, a qualified Christian counselor can offer a diagnosis for your child and set them on a treatment plan.
Barriers to Treating Mental Health in ChildrenIt can be difficult to understand mental health in children because normal childhood development is a process that involves change. Additionally, the symptoms of a disorder may differ depending on a child’s age, and children may not be able to explain how they feel or why they are behaving a certain way.
That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on development milestones. Don’t hesitate to speak with your pediatrician or therapist about any delays. Knowledge is power and early intervention is always best.
Concerns about the stigma associated with mental illness, the use of medications, and the cost or logistical challenges of treatment might also prevent parents from seeking care for a child who has a suspected mental illness. But you can ask God to help you help the child as He sees fit.
Welcome practical help from others. Accept encouragement. Seek out accurate, trustworthy information. There will always be naysayers, but they too can be overcome with God’s help. God entrusted you with a precious life and He will make a way and hold you up.
In these challenging situations, you can meditate on Phil. 4:8 ESV: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Common Mental Disorders Among Children
Mental health disorders in children — or developmental disorders that are addressed by mental health professionals — may include the following.
Anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders in children are persistent fears, worries, or anxiety that disrupt their ability to participate in play, school, or typical age-appropriate social situations. Diagnoses include social anxiety, generalized anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Compared with most children of the same age, children with ADHD have difficulty with attention, impulsive behaviors, hyperactivity, or some combination of these problems.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological condition that appears in early childhood — usually before age 3. Although the severity of ASD varies, a child with this disorder has difficulty communicating and interacting with others.
Eating disorders. Eating disorders are defined as a preoccupation with an ideal body type, disordered thinking about weight and weight loss, and unsafe eating and dieting habits. Eating disorders — such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder — can result in emotional and social dysfunction and life-threatening physical complications.
Depression and other mood disorders. Depression is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest that disrupt a child’s ability to function in school and interact with others. Bipolar disorder results in extreme mood swings between depression and extreme emotional or behavioral highs that may be unguarded, risky or unsafe.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is prolonged emotional distress, anxiety, distressing memories, nightmares and disruptive behaviors in response to violence, abuse, injury or other traumatic events.
These are only a few of the issues related to mental health in children that Christian counselors diagnose. If you see concerns, speak with your child’s physician or therapist to diagnose and determine a course of action.
Signs Your Child May Have a Mental Health Disorder
Warning signs that your child may have a mental health disorder include:
- Avoiding or missing school
- Changes in academic performance
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping
- Frequent headaches or stomachaches
- Changes in eating habits
- Significant weight gain or loss
- Outbursts or extreme irritability
- Out-of-control behavior that can be harmful to self or others
- Drastic changes in mood, behavior or personality
- Persistent sadness lasting two or more weeks
- Withdrawing from or avoiding social interactions
- Hurting oneself or talking about hurting oneself
- Talking about death or suicide
Mental health is on a spectrum of issues and needs. It’s courageous to accept that your child may have mental health disorder, and it’s healthy and necessary to grieve its presence, but it’s not okay to stand idle.
Parents, it’s important that you take action for your child’s sake. Get connected with a support system of family, friends, church, and community members. Most importantly, remember and trust that God understands and has a plan for your child and your family. His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).
Bible Verses to Encourage You
As you take on this journey, please remember these Scriptures:
For the LORD shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken. – Proverbs 3:26
Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. – Isaiah 41:10
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God . . . – 2 Corinthians 3:5
For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. – 1 John 3:20-21
Christian Counseling for Children
If you’re looking for additional support regarding mental health in children, feel free to contact me or one of the other therapists listed in the online counselor directory.
“Don’t Give Up”, Courtesy of Dan Meyers, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Boy”, Courtesy of Sharon McCutcheon, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Bible” Courtesy of James Coleman, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Mama/Daughter Bond”, Courtesy of Eye for Ebony, Unsplash.com, CC0 License