It is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week. It is a week aimed at shedding light on the importance of children’s mental health. The focus is not only on increasing public knowledge around children’s mental health issues, but also establishing the link between positive mental health and healthy development in children. Additionally, National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week aims to identify the various treatment options available to children.
HPA/LiveWell, in Albany, New York, is dedicated to supporting this cause for awareness by providing education on children’s mental health disorders, as well as treatment approaches and options.
Children’s Mental Health Facts
Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week advocates for accurate diagnosis, intervention, and treatment outcomes for children diagnosed with a mental illness. This is vital, as the area of children’s mental health is lacking in research, funding, and overall resources. Looking at some basic children’s mental health statistics, this becomes clear .
- Less than 30% of funds for mental health research are spent in the area of children and adolescents.
- Only 3 out of 10 children in need of mental health treatment are receiving care.
- Out of all children referred to mental health services, only 25% of them are actually receiving appropriate services.
Because more than 75% of mental illness begins before the age of 18, it is obvious why increasing awareness around children’s mental health is critical.
Children’s Mental Health Disorders
Children develop the same mental health disorders as adults, yet the signs and symptoms tend to look different. It is important for parents to know what to look for, and be able to distinguish between signs of mental illness and “normal” child behavior.
Warning signs of possible mental illness in children:
- Mood changes – increased sadness and/or severe mood swings that persist for longer than two weeks.
- Behavior changes – extreme changes in behavior, impulsivity, aggressive/dangerous behavior, and/or substance use
- Physical changes – sudden changes in appetite and/or weight; unexplained cuts, bruises, etc. (possible sign of self-harm)
Diagnosing Children’s Mental Health Disorders
The process of diagnosing a child with a mental illness is similar to that of an adult. Yet for children (especially young children), expressing thoughts and feelings can be difficult. Therefore, having a parent or primary caregiver to provide some information is helpful.
Initially, the doctor or child psychologist will aim to rule out other possible causes for the child’s behavioral/emotional changes. He or she will also obtain a medical background on the child, identify any family history of mental illness, and distinguish if the child has experienced any trauma. A timeline, in terms of the behavior and emotional changes, will also be explored before making any diagnoses.
Some common mental health conditions affecting children are:
- Anxiety disorders
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Mood Disorders
Having your child diagnosed with a mental illness can be a stressful and confusing time. Yet, diagnosis is essential to understanding your child’s behavior and choosing the appropriate treatment intervention.
Children’s Mental Health Programs
Usually, once a diagnosis is made, treatment options are discussed. Frequently, either psychotherapy or medication (or a combination of both) constitutes the initial treatment for children. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of psychotherapy, is often used. This can take place in either individual or group settings. CBT is highly effective and has strong medical research backing its efficacy, hence it’s popularity.