Noticing the signs: mental illness in children
It can be challenging to notice when a child might be struggling with a mental illness. They often express what they are feeling in ways that we cannot understand, and fears of stigma and cost of treatment can often prevent parents from seeking futher care for their children. Here are some of the signs that may show if a child is struggling with a mental illness:
- Having difficulties at school.
- Bullying other children.
- Attempting to injure themselves.
- Avoidance of friends and family.
- Frequent mood swings.
- Experiencing intense emotions, such as extreme fear or angry outbursts.
- Lack in energy/motivation.
- Increase in physical complaints.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Eating significantly more or less than usual.
If you suspect that a child might have a mental illness or disorder, voice your concern. Talk to their parents. If you are worried about your own child, seek medical help.
The most common mental illnesses in children are:
- Anxiety disorders
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- Eating disorders
- Depression and other mood disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Psychotherapy for children
Psychotherapy is a form of psichiatric treatment that, in the case where children are the patients, involve therapeutic conversations between a therapist, the child, and their family. There are several types and techniques of psychotherapy for children. Some examples are below:
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) invloves an examination of the child’s behavior and/or thoughts. CBT therapists work with their patients to replace their harmful thoughts and behaviors with more appropriate ones.
- Family Therapy focuses on positively helping the family function by examining things like communication and support amongst family members.
- Parent Child Ineraction Therapy (PCIT) is helpful for parents and children who struggle with behavioral issues through coaching sessions, where the therapist guide the parent’s actions in order to positively change the parent-child relationship.
- Play Therapy utilizes toys, games, drawings, and more to help a child recognize and verbalize their feelings. The psychotherapists interpret the child’s behavior and use of play materials to figure out what they are feeling or struggling with.
Facing the stigma and learning to advocate for the young
“We need to teach our kids that mental illnesses are just like physical illnesses and deserve the same kind of care and compassion”
– Michelle Obama
The first thing we can do to help anyone who is struggling with a mental illness, is to battle the stigma behind it. Whether that is hosting informative presentations in schools with accredited psychologists and psychotherapists, or reaching out to family members and friends, we all have our part in diminishing the stigmatization of mental illnesses in our communities. This might help some parents acknowledge their child’s struggle, or make a child feel safer and accepted regardless of their struggles.
If you work with children frequently or if you have your own, be attentive. Have you noticed any drastic changes in a child’s mood or personality? Are there any warning signs that may tell of a mental illness? Consult medical professionals if you think something is wrong.
Final thoughts and book recommendations
Lastly, I’ll leave you with some book reccomendations if you are interested in looking further into how children with mental illnesss are treated. Below is Virginia Axline’s book Play Therapy, which is a practical book on how to turn therapy into play for children, but also just includes valuable information for anyone who works with children on a daily basis. I’ve also added Dr. Winnicott’s The Piggle, which is a case study of the psychoanalisis of a young girl who Dr. Winnicott treats thorugh therapy. The book offers its readers invaluable knowledge about the inner works of child psychotherapy.
Thank you for your time spent reading through my presentation! Please feel free to leave any comments or feeback below. What ideas has this presentation generated in your head?
Resources Consulted and Cited
Aacap. “Psychotherapy for Children and Adolescents: Different Types.” Psychotherapy for Children and Adolescents: Different Types, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Apr. 2019, www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Psychotherapies-For-Children-And-Adolescents-086.aspx.
Casado-Frankel, Tomás. “Child’s Play: How Play Therapy Works.” Psychology Today, 18 Jan. 2016, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/contemporary-psychoanalysis-in-action/201601/child-s-play-how-play-therapy-works.
“Early Childhood Mental Health.” Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 17 Mar. 2015, developingchild.harvard.edu/science/deep-dives/mental-health/.
Hartland-Rowe, Lydia. “CAPT in the Early Years.” Association of Child Psychotherapists, Sept. 2011.
Newman, Susan. “13 Signs of Potential Mental Illness in a Child.” Psychology Today, 30 Sept. 2016, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/singletons/201609/13-signs-potential-mental-illness-in-child.
Ryan, Grace. “3 Things You Should Know about Child & Adolescent Mental Health.” Mental Health Innovation Network.
“Worried about Your Child’s Mental Health?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 26 Feb. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/mental-illness-in-children/art-20046577.