Mental Illness In Children – Are We Too Afraid To Find Out?
Up until about 20 years ago, the idea of mental illness occurring in children was pretty much unthinkable.
Boys who were extremely active were sent outside to play. Defiant children were punished or sent outside to play. Irritable children were sent outside to play. Depressed children were sent outside to play. Get the picture?
Today we do know a lot more about mental illness and have a lot more medication to treat it. As mental illness becomes more easily diagnosed in adults, it is natural that we begin to look at our children and wonder. It is also natural that we look back on our own childhoods and wonder or even know that we were ill then too.
Even though most psychiatric diseases are not diagnosed until the teens or early adulthood, it should be fairly obvious that those diseases did not suddenly happen when the kid turned 18. Likely there were signs of existing mental disorder long before the diagnosis. Unfortunately, some parents may be too afraid to look.
The problem with recognizing mental illness in childhood is that symptoms of mental illness are different from the symptoms in adults. Children’s symptoms can be masked with other signs or even opposite to those in adults, so they are not obvious. In addition, the symptoms of many different psychiatric disorders are so similar that it is difficult to distinguish one disorder from another. Some examples:
Depression in children can show as: Depression, Insomnia, Nightmares, Bedwetting, Anxiety, Combativeness, Lack of interest, Anger, Poor grades
ADHD can show as: Inattentiveness, Lack of interest, Fidgetiness, Poor grades, Irritability, Inability to make friends, Excessive anger, Lack of organization
Asperger’s can show as: Lack of interest, Poor grades, Inability to make friends, Excessive anger, Lack of organization
On the other hand normal childhood occurrences such as puberty can show as: Lack of attention, Difficulty getting along with friends, Unexpected anger, Excessive sleep, Inability to sleep, Nightmares, Irritability, Mood swings, Excessive anger, Excessive crying, Poor grades
And Sexual abuse can show as: Nightmares, Bed-wetting, Excessive anger, Anxiety, Depression, Mood swings, Irritability, Disinterest
So how can we determine if it is something that happened to the child, something that is temporary or something like a mental illness?
The best things we can do are to pay attention, know your children. If they change, find out why. Know your family history. If they seem “different”, talk to their teachers. If they are continuously exhibiting behavior outside of the range of “normal”, there may be something wrong. Listen to your kids, if they tell you that something is wrong, it probably is.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Educate yourself. Take the self-test quizzes. Have your spouse or the child’s other caregivers take the tests. Take all of this information to your healthcare provider and if that doesn’t work, find someone who will listen.
Most mental disorders are not diagnosed until the late teens or early adulthood – bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorder and schizophrenia. There is more recognition today, but a lot of resistances to – both from parents and health professionals. Don’t be afraid to seek help just because you are afraid of medication, knowing what is wrong and knowing your options can head off problems.
Recognizing an oncoming issue may help prevent years of anguish for your child and yourself.