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How to help a child with mental health issues

Mental health · Sep 20, 2020

Good mental health during childhood means reaching developmental and emotional milestones, learning how to cope with problems and learning healthy social skills.2

Children can develop the same mental health issues that affect adults, but because the symptoms in children may be different, the situation can be difficult for parents to identify.1 There are an estimated 1.2 million Canadian children and youths3 who are affected by mental illnesses, but fewer than 20% of them3 receive the treatment that could help them.

The key to getting children the help they need is understanding which mental health disorders are common in children and how to recognize them.

Common mental health disorders in children

The most common mental health disorders affecting children include:

  • Anxiety disorders:1 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):1,2 Children with ADHD have trouble paying attention and controlling impulsive behaviours. They can be easily distracted and often fidget or move around a lot, even in inappropriate circumstances.

  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD):1 This neurological disorder causes difficulty communicating and interacting with others.

  • Bipolar disorder:1 Sharp mood swings between depression and extreme emotional highs can lead to unguarded, risky actions.

  • Depression:1 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:1 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.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):1 Emotional distress, anxiety, nightmares and disruptive behaviours may develop as a result of violence, abuse, injury or other traumatic events in the child’s life.

  • Schizophrenia:1 This disorder generally appears in the late teens and 20s and can result in hallucinations, delusions and disordered thinking and behaviours.

Managing mental health issues at home

The first step in managing mental health is to recognize the signs that may point to a problem. If you notice any of the following in your child, contact your child’s doctor.4

  • Out-of-control behaviour1

  • Persistent sadness that lasts two or more weeks1

  • Drastic changes in mood, behaviour or personality1

  • Talking about death or suicide1

  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches1

  • Avoiding or missing school1

  • Changes in eating habits1

  • Unexplained weight loss1

  • Difficulty sleeping1

  • Avoiding social interaction1

  • Frequent tantrums or irritability much of the time4

  • Often talking about fears or worries4

  • Changes in academic performance5

  • Difficulty concentrating5

  • Spending a lot of time daydreaming5

There are steps you can take to nurture your child’s mental health. Here are some guidelines that can help you create a safe home environment.

  • Be aware of your children’s use of social media — both the amount of screen time and the content of the material your children are exposed to. Monitor who they might be interacting with on social media.5

  • Make time for family activities, include physical activities and play time.5

  • Be cautious about discussing serious family matters around children, as these issues can cause children to worry excessively.5

  • Be a role model for healthy lifestyle choices. Let your children see you eating healthy, being physically active, making time for things you enjoy and talking about your feelings.5

If you suspect that your child may be dealing with a mental health issue, contact your child’s doctor or a mental health counsellor.

TELUS Health Care Centres provides comprehensive, personalized programs to help children reach their full physical, mental, behavioural and academic potential. Contact us to learn more.


References:

1. 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

2. What Is Children’s Mental Health? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020.  Available online at https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/basics.html

3. Youth Mental Health Stats in Canada. Youth Mental Health Canada. Available online at https://ymhc.ngo/resources/ymh-stats/#:~:text=Youth%20Mental%20Health%20Reality%3A%20The%20Difference%20We%20Can,%E2%80%93%20three%20times%20more%20likely%2C%20on%20average.%20

4. 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.

5. Your Child’s Mental Health. Caring for Kids. 2017. Available online at https://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/mentalhealth/mental_health

Authored by:
Care Centres Team
TELUS Health Care Centres

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