Children’s Mental Health: Recognizing the Signs When Something's Wrong
Wed, April 21, 2021

Children’s Mental Health: Recognizing the Signs When Something's Wrong

Poor mental health can lead to depression, anxiety, and conduct disorder, often as a direct response to what is happening in a child’s life / Photo by Volodymyr Melnyk via 123RF


Mental health problems affect about 1 in 5 children and young people, according to the Mental Health Foundation, a charity based in the United Kingdom aimed at helping people to understand, protect, and sustain their mental health. Mental health is oftentimes overlooked. It is as important as keeping a healthy body because this determines how we react and cope with daily activities. It affects the choices we make and how we plan to live the rest of our lives. Poor mental health can lead to depression, anxiety, and conduct disorder, often as a direct response to what is happening in a child’s life.


State of Mental Health Among Children

The prevalence of mental illnesses today is increasing. As shared by NAMI Northern Virginia, a local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which is a non-profit organization that supports mental health programs, 13% of children ages 8 to 15 experience a mental health condition. More specifically, 13% to 20% or 1 out of 5 children living in the United States experience a mental health condition in a given year, with 50% not receiving any kind of treatment. Mental illnesses lead to affected decision-making and a more negative view on life. As a result, most alarmingly, 17% of high school students seriously consider suicide, and half of all lifetime cases of mental illnesses beginning by age 14 and three-quarters by age 24.

Social media, as reported in a survey, is seen to exacerbate illnesses of individuals, with most agreeing that this increases the number of mentally ill people despite a split view saying that the platforms are an avenue to promote awareness and improve people’s impression of the problem. The survey, presented by Mental Help, a comprehensive online source of mental illness information, revealed how individuals view social media and how this increases or decreases the number of mentally ill people. The survey shared that 43% of respondents believed that this increases mental illness, a mere 3% said that this decreases mental illness, 32% shared that this has no impact, and 22% said they are not sure. In contrast, when people were asked about the effect of social media on the stigma of mental illness, 31% of respondents said that this decreased the stigma, 30% said that this increased stigma, 19% said that this has no impact, and another 19% said they are not sure.

Know the Signs

According to Mental Help, when people were asked to consider comfort level in discussing mental health with friends, family, and employers, respondents reported being mostly uncomfortable, with 50% saying that it is very uncomfortable to discuss mental health issues with employers and prospective employers, 27% saying that it is only slightly uncomfortable to discuss mental health with family, and friends. In total, 56% said that it’s generally uncomfortable to talk to friends and family about mental disorders. Although we hope that those closest to us will be kind and open to the conversation about mental conditions, the fact that 26% of adults and possibly even younger children living in homeless shelters have a history of mental illness indicates that people don’t receive the support they need.

Good mental health begins in infancy, with babies who don’t have a healthy bond with parents having a much higher risk of developing mental health problems. There are certain risk factors that make some children more likely to experience problems with mental health including long-term physical illness, having a parent with mental health problems or addiction problems, experienced death, divorced, or separated parents and bullying, those living in poverty, experiencing discrimination, or having educational difficulties.

Mental health problems manifest in depression, self-harm, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorder, or hyperactivity. Signs that a child is developing a mental health problem include mood changes, intense feelings, difficulty concentrating, unexplained weight loss, and physical harm.

The Importance of Emotional Well-being

The emotional well-being of a child is as important as physical health. Developing good mental health allows children and young people to develop the resilience to cope with what happens in life, both good and bad. This shapes their personality and helps them grow into well-rounded and healthy adults, who are able to live through any kind of adversity, learn from it, share their knowledge with others, and help others who are more in need of help.

As a concerned parent, friend, or mentor, consider consulting a doctor to explain the concerning behavior of the child. Talking to their teachers, friends, or caregivers can also shed light on the situation. A child with mental health issues needs support more than others. Parents can help in showing warmth and expressing an open relationship, talking and sharing their thoughts. Professionals can help support troubled children by addressing what their issues are. Above all, it is important to allow the child to talk through their feelings, to keep the conversations confidential, with the occasional need for medication as required by specialists.