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Recognizing Signs of Mental Health Struggles in Children

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According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 6 children between the ages of 2 and 8 are diagnosed with a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder ( While these conditions are easily recognized in adults, it can be a challenge to recognize them in children, especially teenagers who are already experiencing hormonal changes. Here is a look at some of the common mental health conditions, as well as suggestions for identifying them and supporting a child who may be suffering.

Common Mental Health Conditions in Children:

Anxiety Disorders- children struggle with persistent fears, worries, or anxiety that disrupts their ability to participate in everyday activities such as play, school, or age-appropriate social situations.

Eating Disorders- can be described as a preoccupation with an ideal body type, disordered thinking about weight and weight loss, and unsafe eating and dieting habits.

Depression and Mood Disorders- Depression is a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. This condition affects your child’s ability to function in school and interact with others.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)- children who have been exposed to violence, abuse, injury, or other traumatic events can experience prolonged emotional distress, anxiety, unsettling memories, nightmares, and disruptive behaviors.

How Do I Identify if My Child Is Struggling?

  • Persistent sadness — two or more weeks
  • Withdrawing from or avoiding social interactions
  • Hurting oneself or talking about hurting oneself
  • Talking about death or suicide
  • Outbursts or extreme irritability
  • Out-of-control behavior that can be harmful
  • Drastic changes in mood, behavior, or personality
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Weight Loss
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Frequent headaches or stomachaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in academic performance
  • Avoiding or missing school

What Can I Do to Support My Child?

If you are concerned that your child is struggling with a mental health condition you should begin by consulting your child’s doctor. Prior to your visit be sure to make a list of behaviors that concern not only you but other adults close to your child including, teachers, caregivers, relatives, and close friends. To make a diagnosis the child’s doctor will likely recommend that your child be evaluated by a clinician, such as a child psychiatrist or psychologist.

Following the evaluation, the clinician may determine a diagnosis and may prescribe treatment.

How Do I Help My Child Cope?

As a parent you will play an integral role in supporting your child’s treatment plan. To not only care for yourself but your child you can engage in the following:

  • Learn about the illness.
  • Consider family counseling that treats all members as partners in the treatment plan.
  • Ask your child's mental health professional for advice on how to respond to your child and handle difficult behavior.
  • Enroll in parent training programs, particularly those designed for parents of children with a mental illness.
  • Explore stress management techniques to help you respond calmly.
  • Seek ways to relax and have fun with your child.
  • Praise your child's strengths and abilities.
  • Work with your child's school to secure necessary support.

If you are a parent of a child with a mental health condition and need support, resources can be provided by your child’s school or clinician.


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