Understanding mental health in children
Mental health · Aug 17, 2022
Good mental health during childhood leads to reaching developmental and emotional milestones, learning how to cope with problems and learning healthy social skills.1
Twenty per cent2 of children and youth in Canada will experience mental illness. Children can develop many of the same mental illnesses that affect adults, but because the symptoms in children may be different, the situation can be difficult for parents to identify.3
The key to getting children the help they need is understanding which mental health conditions are common in children and how to recognize them.
Common mental health conditions in children
The most common mental health conditions affecting children and youth include4:
Anxiety disorders: These conditions are characterized by persistent fears, worries or anxieties that interfere with the child’s ability to participate in typical age-appropriate social situations such as school activities and playing with friends.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Children with ADHD have trouble paying attention and controlling impulsive behaviours. They can be easily distracted and many fidget or move around a lot.
Autism: This neurological condition causes difficulties with social functioning, including communicating and interacting with others.
Depression: Persistent feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in the things the child usually enjoys can interfere with the ability to interact with others and function in school.
Eating disorders: This preoccupation with ideal body type can lead to unsafe eating habits, emotional problems and, in some cases, life-threatening physical complications. Eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating.
Managing mental health at home
The first step in managing mental health is to recognize the signs5 that may point to a problem. If you notice any of the following in your child, contact your child’s doctor.6
Persistent sadness that lasts two or more weeks
Drastic changes in mood, behaviour or personality
Talking about death or suicide
Frequent headaches or stomach aches
Avoiding or missing school
Changes in eating habits
Unexplained weight loss
Avoiding social interaction
Frequent tantrums or irritability much of the time
Often talking about fears or worries
Changes in academic performance
Spending a lot of time daydreaming
5 ways to help nurture your child’s mental health
There are steps you can take to nurture your child’s mental health. Here are some that you may find helpful:
1. Be aware of your children’s screen time and use of social media.
It is important to stay on top of both the amount of screen time and the content of the material your children are exposed to. Monitor who they are interacting with on social media and what sites they are visiting.7
2. Listen to and respect their feelings.
Feelings of sadness and anger are normal for children. Keep communication and conversation open by encouraging them to talk about how they feel. There is a chance that your child may not feel comfortable talking to you - if this is the case, help them find someone (an aunt, family friend, teacher or counselor) who they may be able to talk to.
3. Be cautious about discussing serious family matters around children.
Children are often listening to what adults are saying, even if it doesn’t seem obvious. Be mindful of when and where you discuss serious family matters. These issues can cause children to worry excessively.8
4. Be a role model for healthy lifestyle choices.
Children often model their behaviour based on what they observe from adults. Let your children see you eating healthy, being physically active, making time for things you enjoy and talking about your feelings.9
5. Help children develop self-esteem.
Showing lots of love and acceptance, recognizing their efforts when they do something well and asking questions about what they are interested in and what activities they have been doing recently are all ways to help foster a child’s self-esteem.
Get the support you need
If you suspect that your child may be dealing with a mental health issue, it may be helpful to speak with someone.
TELUS Health Care Centres has a team of dedicated psychologists that specialize in child and youth mental health in British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec. You can find out more about how they can help by filling out a short contact form today.
1. What Is Children’s Mental Health? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020. Available online at https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/basics.html
2. Child and youth mental health: Canadian paediatric society. Child and Youth Mental Health | Canadian Paediatric Society. (n.d.). Retrieved August 17, 2022, from https://cps.ca/en/strategic-priorities/child-and-youth-mental-health
3, 4, 5 Children’s Health. Mayo Clinic. 2020. Available online at https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/mental-illness-in-children/art-20046577?p=1
6. Child and Adolescent Mental Health. National Institute of Mental Health. Available online at https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/child-and-adolescent-mental-health/index.shtml.
7, 8, 9 Your Child’s Mental Health. Caring for Kids. 2017. Available online at https://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/mentalhealth/mental_health