Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues can affect anyone – including children. In fact, it’s estimated that one in five children struggle with mental health, but only one-third receive the treatment they need.

“Many adults don’t associate mental health challenges with children,” says Chad Lennon, MD, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center. “But the reality is that some children will face anxiety, depression and other issues. It’s important for parents to be able to recognize these signs and offer the support their children need.”

Signs and symptoms of mental health issues in children

The most common mental disorders in children include:

  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety
  • Behavioral disorders
  • Depression

Symptoms and warning signs of these can vary greatly based on the condition and child. Dr. Lennon recommends talking with your child’s pediatrician if something seems out of the norm for your child.

“Trust your gut,” he encourages. “Parents know their child best, and if your child is demonstrating troubling behavior for more than a few days or weeks and just doesn’t seem like himself, call your pediatrician. Your child’s doctor knows your child and can offer guidance on whether it’s just a phase or if your child needs more support to deal with whatever he is facing.”

Other symptoms of mental illness in children include:

  • Decline in school performance
  • Change in friendships
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Constant worry or anxiety
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Sadness or irritability
  • Frequent temper tantrums

“A mental health condition is an illness. It is a result of the chemicals in the brain not working or responding as they usually do,” explains Dr. Lennon. “And just as you would seek treatment for an ear ache or illness in your child, you also shouldn’t hesitate to seek treatment for a mental health illness.”

Get your child the help, support needed

“There are many effective treatment options for mental health conditions in children, and there’s no shame in getting the help and support your child needs,” says Dr. Lennon. “A trained mental health provider will work closely with your child to create a treatment plan that’s right for your child.”

Treatment may include:

  • Talk therapy
  • Cognitive behavior therapy
  • Developing coping skills
  • Medication

Build open, honest communication

A loving, supportive home can go a long way in encouraging your child’s mental health – whether or not they are facing a diagnosed condition.

“Keep the lines of communication open with your child,” encourages Dr. Lennon. “As children grow they are more open to friends than parents, but when you find time to connect and talk with your child, they will be more likely to share their concerns and worries with you – giving you the opportunity to offer the support they need.”

Dr. Lennon also encourages parents to build relationships with the adults and friends your children are close to – whether it’s a coach, teacher or sibling – and get a well-rounded picture of how your child is doing.

Mental health is a strength, not a weakness

Too often, a mental health issue is seen as a weakness. But, when parents and children can recognize they need help – and seek that help out – it’s truly a sign of strength.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out to a therapist or psychiatrist if that’s something your child needs – or something you need as a parent,” says Dr. Lennon. “It can make a difference in your children’s mental and physical health.”

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