Mental health issues in children seem to be becoming more common. There are two main reasons for this.
Firstly, children are under more pressure than ever before. With more exams and tests to do from a young age, they work hard and can worry about letting people down. Social media and internet access can also lead to children feeling pressure to look a certain way, even from a young age.
Secondly, mental health conditions are more widely reported and studied. Children that might have previously been seen as difficult or awkward are now being diagnosed with a recognised mental illness and treated. As parents, it’s important that we know the warning signs of children’s mental illnesses and what we can do to help.
More children than you might expect suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Sometimes it’s in response to a change in their lives, such as starting school or moving to a new house. In other instances, children become anxious and afraid regularly over much smaller things. You might notice your child becoming frequently upset and clingy. They won’t want to leave your side. The key here is not to try and remove the anxiety, but to help your child find ways to cope with it.
Many young children are hyperactive. In most cases, it’s a phase they go through and it won’t affect their social life or schooling. In the case of ADHD, the hyperactivity does cause a disruption to everyday life. Your child will also seem restless and inattentive. It’s important not to shout at, or punish, them as they genuinely can’t help it. Speak to your doctor and your child’s teachers to find a combination of medication and educational support to help manage the condition.
Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa are becoming more common in teenagers and young adults, especially girls. Early symptoms can look like fussy eating, so look out for other signs such as an obsession with their appearance and them becoming withdrawn and defensive. When speaking to your child, if you suspect they have developed an unhealthy relationship with food, it’s important to avoid seeming judgmental or shocked. Be honest about your feelings and avoid talking about food, weight, or appearance. Instead, talk to them about hobbies and interests, be positive and make sure they know you love them and will always support them.
Many children self-harm to cope with stress or anxiety. They might bang their heads, burn themselves, scratch compulsively or find other ways to hurt themselves. If your child seems to be hiding something, is withdrawn and upset, and has unexplained marks or injuries, they may be self-harming. Talk to them about it, and try to find other ways for them to cope with their feelings. Ask them for their ideas and make them feel valued and important.
If you are worried your child might be suffering from any of these conditions, seeing a professional who can give you some further advice on how to approach your child and what to do next should always be your first step.