Safeguarding Your Child’s Mental Health and How to Spot Issues
Mental health is being discussed more than ever right now with the fallout from worries and lifestyle changes resulting from the pandemic. But something that needs to be highlighted is that children can suffer from mental health issues, too.
It’s important to have a full understanding of what mental health is, warning signs that a child may need some help, methods for helping your child at home, and when to seek medical intervention.
What Is Mental Health?
Just as physical health addresses the body, mental health addresses the mind. Mental health is the consideration of the emotional and psychological well-being of an individual.
Mental health issues have the ability to reduce a person’s overall well-being and can impact every aspect of their life, including relationships, school, and extracurricular activities. But children who suffer from mental health issues can also see a change in their physical health, such as not being able to sleep well at night and feeling ill from stress.
Common Mental Health Issues in Children
Although children can develop a variety of mental health issues, there are three big ones experts often see in this age group. These include:
- Anxiety: Anxiety in children can be fleeting, caused by a stressful event, such as when an introverted child has to give a speech in front of their class. But children can also have anxiety disorders that lead to constant worry, fears, or anxiety. These anxiety disorders can be crippling for children, keeping them from participating in activities or from making friends. Some of the anxiety disorders children can suffer from include generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and social anxiety.
- Eating disorders: This category of mental health issues kicks into high gear during junior high and high school years. Sometimes, children in early elementary school have been diagnosed with eating disorders. Although eating disorders are more common in females, males can develop them also.
- Depression: Depression isn’t just feeling sad once in a while -- it’s being persistently sad or having a loss of interest in things that you used to love.
How Can You Tell If a Child Might Have a Mental Health Issue?
It can be tricky for parents and teachers to spot children who are in distress. Children, especially teenagers, can be pretty dramatic. What bothers them one day might be completely forgotten the next.
It’s best to look for patterns of behavior, rather than using one incident to determine if your child is struggling. These are some signs that children might be facing mental health issues.
- Trouble sleeping.
- Being withdrawn socially or going out of their way to avoid normal social interactions.
- Feeling sad for at least two weeks.
- Harming themselves.
- Being much more irritable than usual.
- A big variation in their normal eating habits.
- Speaking about suicide or death.
- A huge change in their personality, mood, or how they typically behave.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Numerous stomachaches or headaches.
- Skipping school.
- Problems with concentrating.
- A sudden drop in their grades at school.
Keep in mind that some children are better than others at hiding their symptoms. Some may have a classic checklist of most of these symptoms. But there can also be children who seem fine academically, socially, and behaviorally, but have hidden signs, such as inflicting harm to themselves through cutting.
Pay close attention to your child so you can quickly spot what seems out of the norm for them.
Ways to Help Your Child With Their Issues
The first step you should take is to consult a medical professional, whether it’s your child’s doctor or a therapist. There is no shame in consulting a professional for help with mental issues, just as you’d see a doctor if there were something physically wrong with you.
The professional you talk to will be able to do an examination of your child to rule out any medical causes for their symptoms. They can also give you a plan of attack to have your child feeling better soon. But there are things you can be doing at home to help your child.
- Help them get enough sleep: Although it may sound simplistic, sleep is an important biological function. Not getting enough sleep can worsen existing depression. To help your child get more restful sleep even if they have anxiety or depression, you can set the stage for a proper night’s rest. You can get them comfortable cooling bedding, a weighted blanket which may help with anxiety, a white noise machine for their bedroom, and teach them the importance of meditating before bed.
- Educate yourself: Learn what triggers them and help them find ways to avoid their triggers or come up with better ways of dealing with their emotions. Learn about their mental condition or disorder so you can better understand what they are going through.
- Communicate: Keep the lines of communication open and avoid judgmental language that makes them want to stop talking to you. You don’t have to completely understand how they feel, you just have to make them feel supported as they go through it. Having a cheerleader they feel safe confiding in can make all the difference.
- Find stress management methods: These can include exercise, meditation, journaling, therapy, and redirection. Experiment with methods and find those that work best for your child.
- Praise their progress: Every step toward controlling their mental illness should be noticed and praised. They are putting the work in to get better and it will help them if you acknowledge it.
- Keep your child’s school in the loop: It’s best to confidentially let your child’s school or teachers know what’s going on, so they can monitor for any triggers at school. By working as a team, you can better serve your child.
Keep Working Through It
Mental issues can be difficult because they aren’t something tangible that people understand unless they’ve gone through it themselves. If your child suffers from one, you won’t find a solution overnight. You’ll have to keep working at it jointly and, before long, you’ll start to see progress.