Signs of Mental Illness in Younger Children

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When people think of mental health, they tend to think of people in their teens and up. It is easy to forget, but children have minds that work as much as ours do, just in a different way. But for many different reasons, mental health issues in children are a subject that is often overlooked. In many cases, children may not have the ability to communicate their issues. Other times, parents will attribute any unusual behaviour to kids just being kids.

Identifying a problem as soon as possible will always make it easier to deal with, and this is especially true for young children in their formative years. Below, we have listed some of the biggest warning signs to help you identify if your child may have a mental illness, and what these signs may mean.


Red Flags


Behavioural Changes - Behavioural changes refers to the overall trend of your child’s behaviour over a period of time, not brief changes in how they act throughout the day. If your child’s behavior changes, such as by becoming isolated, irritable, or depressed, for over two weeks, then it could be a sign of mental illness.


Mood Swings - Instead of exhibiting an overall change in their behaviour, your child may experience mood swings. These often manifest in the form of anger, and may include physically harming others, including with objects.


Weight Change - While it is not unusual for some young kids to look very skinny, it is unusual for a child’s weight to change drastically in the course of a few months or less. Weight gain could signal that your child has started to overeat or spend more time sitting inside, while weight loss could result from a loss of appetite due to anxiety or depression.


Physical Pain - We’ve spoken before about the link between mental and physical pain, and some scientists believe this connection to be even stronger in children than adults. Physical problems that appear to have no identifiable root, such as headaches or stomach aches, may be rooted in mental health.


Difficulty Concentrating - It is normal for children to jump from one activity to another, but it is also expected that they will sometimes become engrossed in a single activity for hours on end. If your child rarely engages in an activity for more than a few minutes, it could be a sign that they have difficulty concentrating.


What Could it Mean?


In theory, a child could suffer from any of the same mental health issues that affect adults, but there are some that are much more common than most. Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are some of the most commonly diagnosed mental health issues in children. Fortunately, these conditions can be easily treated with a combination of medication and therapy, it is simply a matter of making the diagnosis.


Another common condition diagnosed in young children is autism, which Autism Ireland says now affects about 1% of the Irish population. Autism is a condition that varies widely from person to person, but in every case, the earlier it is identified the better, so watch out for the warning signs of autism.


Although we often think that children lead generally carefree lives, this is not always the case. Even children from perfectly happy homes can have problems in school or in the neighborhood that can cause problems like anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder. Oftentimes, parents won’t see these social problems because they are not around, so it is important to watch out for the warning signs when the child is at home.


These are just a few examples of some of the most common red flags and mental health issues that children may have, but as stated above, mental health issues in children can be as wide ranging as those in adults. But with children often unable to comprehend the situations they are in and the feelings that come with them, it is up to the adults to identify these warning signs and get them the help they need.

Emily Sullivan