Mental Health Awareness in Children: Could Your Child Have a Mental Health Condition?
By Alisha Diggs, NCC, LPC
Candice was a 7-year old big sister to her 3-year old and 9 month old little sisters. Her dad worked long hours, so she helped her mom by reading stories to her little sister, coming up with new games for them both to play, and making sure her sister stayed out of trouble. She also loved helping her mom with the baby by retrieving the diapers and bottles before nap time. Candice made good grades in school and was always pretty talkative and outgoing. Gradually, by her 8th birthday, Candice’s mom realized that Candice no longer wanted to help take care of the baby and was ignoring her other sister. Candice was getting notes sent home from school and her grades were beginning to slip. Candice’s mom was having to reprimand her more often and her tantrums were becoming more explosive and frequent. One day, her mother found that Candice had removed all the heads from her dolls, after hitting her sister and making her cry. Candice no longer played well with friends and was not even allowed at some of their homes. Candice’s mother felt overwhelmed and was wondering what was going on with her daughter.
It begins slowly. It doesn’t happen all at once. You start to notice different behaviors that may have not been there before. Your once happy, smiling, energetic child now stays in bed for hours and barely eats. They may be easily distracted, get into trouble, talk back, become easily upset, or cry for no reason. Your relationship with your child changes. It’s as if whatever you say seems to set them off or push them further away. You make excuses; saying things like “it’s just hormonal,” “they need more attention,” “they’re hanging around with the wrong kids,” or “maybe there’s a bully at school.” You don’t know what to do. You don’t want to believe that your child could be suffering from a mental health condition.
When your child develops a mental health condition, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, 1 in 25 Americans live with a serious mental health condition and out of this number, 1 in 5 are under the age of 18. Unfortunately, only 60% of those people get mental health care. This means that many people have experienced caring for a person with a mental health condition but have not taken the steps to allow mental health professionals to help them through difficult times.
The challenges of mental health conditions do not only affect an individual’s parents and siblings, but it also significantly impacts yours and your child’s relationship with friends, teachers, neighbors, and others in the community. When untreated, mental health conditions can lead to school failure, family conflicts, drug abuse, violence, and even suicide.
Tips for Parents:
Communicate. The best way to get help for your child is to talk to them about what’s going on. This may be difficult at first because children have a hard time expressing how they’re feeling. It may be more important to be attentive to nonverbal communication, such as changes in their moods and behaviors.
Get help. There can be some stigma associated with parents who raise a child with a mental health condition, such as feelings of failure and lack of knowledge as a caregiver. Despite what was once believed, there are effective treatments for mental health conditions that have allowed families to get back to a comfortable level of functioning. The earlier you seek out help, the better the chances for successful interventions. No one wishes they would have waited longer to seek assistance.
Balance. Mental health conditions can affect the entire family. Parents have to take care of their physical, mental, and spiritual well being. It’s vital that you don’t neglect the other important things in your life. Also, siblings don’t have it easy and often take a back seat. Remember, it’s essential to show other members of the family how important they are.
Find a support group. Some organization provides education and support for both people suffering from mental health conditions and their families. Education is one of the best ways of dealing with mental health conditions. Reach out to others and listen to their stories and share your own. You can gain hope and allow your voice to be heard. You’ll benefit from discovering local resources and how to use them.
National Alliance on Mental (NAMI). (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2017, from https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Teens-and-Young-Adults
National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH). (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2017, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/child-and-adolescent-mental-health/index.shtml