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How can you tell the difference between the normal ups and downs of adolescence and a mental health disorder in a child? This can be a challenging question for parents. The answer often lies in whether problem behaviors are consistent over time and whether they are compromising the child's ability to be successful at school, at home and with friends.
Mental health disorders are real medical problems that often require help from a medical professional. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at www.mentalhealth.gov, "Half of all mental health disorders show first signs before a person turns 14 years old. Unfortunately, less than 20 percent of children and adolescents with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need."
Here are some of the most common mental disorders found in children and teens as well as symptoms to look for.
It is normal for children and teens to feel sad from time to time, and these feelings can usually be linked to a difficult life event such as a break-up, disappointment or family challenges. These feelings often get better with time and support from family and friends.
If feelings of sadness do not get better and they are affecting a child's ability to function normally, then it may be time to seek treatment for depression. If your child has consistently shown four or more of the following symptoms in the past two weeks, and the symptoms are negatively affecting his or her life, depression may be the cause.
- Little interest or pleasure in doing things
- Feeling sad for no reason
- Feeling tired and sleeping more
- Feeling bad or down about self
- Poor appetite
- Poor sleep
- Trouble concentrating compared to normal, falling grades
- Above-average irritability or anger
- Thoughts that life is not worth living Mood disorderBipolar disorder is an increasingly common mental health diagnosis that frequently runs in families. It is marked by mood swings from depressed to normal to hyperactive that are extreme for the child's age. Elevated mood and energy, significantly reduced need to sleep, impulsivity, risk-taking behavior, rapid speech, taking on new bold tasks, and aggressive or explosive behavior lasting more than a week and interrupted by depression may indicate bipolar disorder.
Children are naturally active and sometimes inattentive, and in most cases, it's just kids being kids. However, for some, these behaviors are extreme and affect a child's ability to be successful at school, at home and with friends.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are three types of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD: Inattention, Hyperactivity and Combination. If your child has at least six symptoms in either the Inattention or Hyperactivity list, the symptoms are consistent over time and in a variety of settings, and they are affecting his or her ability to function normally, you may wish to talk to a medical professional about ADHD.
- Fails to give attention to detail
- Has difficulty sustaining attention
- Does not listen when spoken to directly
- Does not follow through with instructions
- Has difficulty organizing
- Avoids tasks requiring sustained mental effort
- Loses things necessary for tasks
- Is easily distracted
- Is forgetful in daily activities Hyperactivity1. Fidgets with hands or feet
- Leaves seat in classroom
- Is excessively active when inappropriate
- Has difficulty with playing quietly
- Is often "driven by a motor"
- Talks excessively
- Blurts out answers
- Has difficulty awaiting turn
- Interrupts others Anxiety disordersWhether it's fear over monsters under the bed or an upcoming exam, stress and anxiety are normal in children and teens. However, when anxiety doesn't get better over time and it causes extreme worry, panic, obsessive behaviors or inability to function normally in social situations, then there may be an anxiety disorder at work.
"Because so many of our youth have been affected either directly or indirectly by someone they know who has taken their life, we need to be educated on the facts of suicide in teens," says Dr. Corey Ericksen of Ericksen Research and Westside Medical in Clinton, Utah.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death in teens. Here are some of the suicide warning signs that parents should be aware of:
- Talking about wanting to die
- Feeling hopeless, trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing use of alcohol and drugs
- Withdrawal or isolation
- Showing rage or revenge seeking
- Displaying extreme mood swings These signs may not indicate actual intention to commit suicide, and suicide may also happen without warning. The reasons and indications of suicide are often complex. If you think that your child may be considering suicide, talk to him or her. Research shows that talking openly about suicide does not increase the risk. Give the child access to a mental health professional and keep lethal drugs and weapons out of reach. Consult a doctor or a behavioral health specialist if you believe your child may have a mental disorder. Most health insurance now covers mental health care and screenings. Clinical trials may be a good option because they provide thorough medical care, offer new treatment options and cost the patient nothing.
Mental illness can be a real and frightening challenge for families, but help is available. The good news, according to mentalhealth.gov, is that "people with mental health problems get better and many recover completely."
For more information on mental health clinical trials for adults and children call 801.614.5501. Allison Laypath is an MBA, freelance writer and the founder of two successful blogs. Her work has been featured on The Huffington Post, ABC television, Parents Magazine and KSL.com.