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How to Respond When a Child Has a Mental Health Condition

Many people forget that children also struggle with mental health problems. This is particularly true in the age of COVID-19, where school closures, forced isolation, and cancellation of social events have led to greater incidents of anxiety, depression, and suicide.

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While children can struggle with many of the same conditions that adults do, they often require other treatments and respond differently to their conditions. This can cause caretakers and parents to feel confused, concerned, and wondering what to do. Understanding the similarities and differences between child and adult mental health conditions can help to support patients, provide treatments, and know who to contact for further help. Here is what to know.


What are the Common Mental Health Disorders for Children?

Mental health disorders among children encompass problems in the way that kids learn, behave, or deal with emotions. These problems lead to internalized stress and other difficulties that make it hard for kids to cope with day-to-day life. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, common mental health disorders among children include –


· Anxiety – Feelings of intense fear that result in debilitating physical symptoms.

· Depression – A period of persistent and intense sadness that leads to feelings of hopelessness or helplessness in children.

· Oppositional Defiant Disorder – When children act out persistently in a way that interferes with school, home life, and peers.

· Conduct Disorder – Children show an ongoing pattern of aggression towards others such as lying, stealing, or damaging property.

· ADHD – Children have difficulty paying attention or controlling compulsive behaviors.

· Tourette Syndrome – Sudden twitches, movements, or sounds that children perform repeatedly.

· OCD – Obsessive thoughts and repetitive actions to correct obsessive thoughts.

· PTSD – Children have difficulty responding to a traumatic event such as a death of a loved one or a life-threatening illness.

Warning Signs to Watch Out For

Children may react differently when they struggle with a mental health problem. While symptoms can vary depending on the condition, common signs include –


· Persistent hopelessness

· Tendency to withdrawal from social events

· Talk of hurting oneself or others

· Excessive talk of the death of suicide

· Extreme irritability

· Drastic changes in behavior or mood

· Changes in eating habits

· Difficulty sleeping

· Frequent headaches and stomachaches

· Difficulty concentrating in school

· Changes in academic performance

· Frequently missing school or showing up late


What Parents and Teachers Should Do

It’s hard to know if strange behavior is simply a quirk, part of growing up, or a sign of a mental health problem. If teachers or parents suspect something is wrong, they should not ignore it. Teachers should address the issue with parents and continue to monitor the situation. They should also follow the district-approved protocol for handling children with mental health conditions. Both parties should communicate frequently and provide any updates with one another.


Parents should take their child to a healthcare provider or psychologist. They may perform an evaluation to assess the child’s mental health. This will include a complete medical exam, an overview of medical history, an assessment of past trauma, an assessment of the family’s history, and a review of symptoms and signs.


The doctor or psychologist will also go over the child’s academic history in detail to see whether there was any shift in performance. He/she will interview the parents to see how the child’s condition is impacting family life. The doctor will interact and converse with the child. He/she may conduct a standardized assessment or questionnaire to get a feel for how the child’s mental health is.


The way a doctor talks and interacts with a patient will depend on the age and maturity level of the child. For example, many psychologists allow younger patients to play with toys during their sessions. This helps the child open up because they are more relaxed. There are also many medications available to treat children, depending on the condition and the severity of the case.


If you feel like your child is struggling with a mental health condition, don’t wait to act. Contact a healthcare provider or clinical psychologist to start on a path of treatment.


Do you or your child struggle with anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. One of our professional counselors would be happy to meet with you.

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