North Texas Daily

Recognizing mental health problems in children

Recognizing mental health problems in children

Recognizing mental health problems in children
November 23
10:00 2020

I developed anxiety at a very young age. My refusal to speak and participate was dismissed as something I would soon grow out of. I was left at the back of the classroom and moving toward the front was only a recent achievement. Being helped when I was 6 years old would have changed my whole life and spared me the immense emotional turmoil of managing it all on my own.

A child throws a tantrum, seeks attention in class, or refuses to participate in activities and they are dismissed as just another child that hasn’t learned how to behave. But mental health problems in children are real and common, and its development is often swept under the rug for them to deal with later in life. That tantrum can be a part of a much larger issue.

Mental health problems in children can be characterized as delays or disruptions in the development of behaviors, thinking patterns, social skills, and the regulation of emotions. These problems can act as a barrier to a child’s ability to function well at home, school and in any social interactions now and in the future. They are also widely misunderstood both by caregivers and by the children themselves as childhood development is both varying and an ever-changing process. Children cannot express how they feel and why they feel it, so it is up to caregivers at home and at school to help children find the words and the treatment.

Adolescent ages are primal to the beginning of many illnesses and it is imperative to address them as soon as possible. Common disorders among children include anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, eating disorders, mood disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder. They can be shown through symptoms such as frequent tantrums, constant worry or sadness, a decline in school performance, withdrawal, difficulty sleeping and much more.

Research shows that 1 in 5 children have a diagnosable mental health problem and only 2/3 of them get little or no help.  Children left with untreated mental health issues are more prone to failure in school, more involved with the criminal justice system, inclined to substance abuse, economic hardships, physical health problems and are at higher risk of suicide. Parents, teachers, and caregivers all have a responsibility to recognize mental health problems and their symptoms in order to prevent hardships and difficulties that could lay ahead.

Recognizing mental health problems in schools, where children spend the majority of their time and are learning to integrate into society, is especially important. We too often worry more about the visible, disrupting symptoms of illness that disrupt class and home environments, and disregard the worry, fear and sadness that can cling on to the lives of our children. Taking time to acknowledge the anxiety a child feels for presentations or incorporating activity into the routine of a hyperactive child.

Keeping in mind children’s differing needs and coping mechanisms can be difficult, but implementing an overall safe and supportive system in school is something that needs to be worked towards. Promoting early detection and intervention would promote the success and well-being of children everywhere.

Far too many children lack access to mental health services. Low-income families, families of color and families with children with disabilities or other health concerns have an increased difficulty in obtaining services that would identify, prevent and treat mental health problems. Awareness to combat this issue and helping children obtain mental health services need to comes from not only the public but social service systems such as child welfare and special education. Collectively, we need to promote the awareness of children’s mental health services and make sure were are not allowing our future generations to fall through the cracks of our system.

Teachers and primary care providers must begin considering mental health to be just as important as learning and physical health. Health assessments and integrative strategies should be integrated into the healthcare and education of children everywhere, granting them easier access to mental health services. The development of a child’s social, emotional and behavioral well-being is at the core of true, healthy development and programs that can help parents, teachers, and caregivers learn how to encourage this healthy social, emotional and behavioral development should be created.

Bringing awareness to mental health problems in children is not only beneficial to their futures but also beneficial to the future of our world. Helping children develop in healthy ways can set us up for a future of healthier societies. Our children are our futures. We should put all of our resources into them.

Featured Illustration by Durga Bhavana

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Vanessa Delgado

Vanessa Delgado

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