As a parent, it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms that may indicate early mental health problems in your child. Mental health issues can present differently in children than adults, so recognizing the warning signs is key.
It’s normal for all children to have ups and downs as they grow – but if you notice changes that last more than two weeks or become extreme, this could be an indicator of a possible mental health issue. It is helpful to look out for any physical, emotional, behavioral, or relationship changes in your child.
Early Signs of Mental Health Issues in Children:
- Changes in appetite: If your child has a sudden decrease or increase in their appetite pay attention to if it is a one time situation or if it is happening for more than a couple of weeks.
- Changes in sleeping patterns: If your child has difficulty getting to sleep, or sleeping for longer than normal, this could be an indication that something is wrong. In my own personal opinion, chronic sleep issues are one of the bigger red flags warranting connecting with a professional to explore more.
- Mood swings: If your child is having frequent and extreme mood swings, this is something to monitor. While it is very common for toddlers and young children to struggle with emotional regulation and being able to effectively communicate resulting in a full-on meltdown in the middle of the grocery store, you want to pay attention to how often it’s happening, how long it happens for, and how intense it becomes. If you are concerned talk to your child’s medical professionals.
- Social withdrawal: If your child is withdrawing from activities they used to enjoy, such as sports teams or school events, this may be a sign that something isn’t right. This is a great example, as a parent, of me easily dismissing this sign as something else. I have seen my children withdraw but I was quick to justify it as just the stress of being in high school or friendship issues when in reality there was something deeper I wasn’t noticing.
- Lack of energy: If you notice that your child has become lethargic or shows little interest in activities that once excited them, it could be a warning sign of mental health issues. Anytime you notice your child increasingly fatigued this could be any number of medical issues, but as with the other possible symptoms you want to consult with your medical provider.
- Changes in school performance: If your child’s grades suddenly slip or they start to exhibit disruptive behavior, it could be a sign of a mental health issue. No one knows your child better than you do, so you know what your child’s good days look like. If you notice any sudden changes, never be afraid to have a conversation with your child, “Hey, I noticed that you seem to want to be alone more lately, how are you feeling?”
If you notice any of these signs in your child, start by talking to your child’s pediatrician. They will be able to help do a brief screening and help decide next steps.
Mental health issues can have profound impacts on children if left untreated, so seeking early intervention is key. A mental health professional can assist you in understanding the issue and developing a treatment plan tailored to your child’s needs.
It’s also important to remember that mental health challenges are not something to be ashamed of – there is nothing wrong with getting help for yourself or for your child! With the right support, everyone can live healthier and happier lives. You all deserve that.
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). (2018). Children and Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/child-and-adolescent-mental-health/index.shtml
- Mayo Clinic Staff (2019). Recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental illness in children and teens, retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/in-depth/recognizing-signs-of-mental-illness/art-20044791?pg=2
- American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). (2019). Facts for Families: Signs of Mental Illness in Children and Adolescents. Retrieved from https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Signs-Of-Mental-Illness-In-Children-And-Adolescents-093.aspx
In addition to tips on early mental health warning signs, I’m also here to answer any questions that you might have along the way. Check out www.mymensana.com for more resources and join our Facebook Community Raising a Beautiful Mind.