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The Covid19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of mental health in our daily lives like never before. Mental health was earlier a taboo subject , it was a word used only for the seriously mentally ill. Children have been forced to stay holed up at home with no company and no playing outdoors ,no wonder they have been affected as much as adults by the epidemic. By nature children are more resilient and bounce back faster than adults, but in the pandemic many children have had to deal with the sickness of a family member or even the loss of a parent creating emotionally vulnerable situations for them.
Going to school is a stress buster for many children as they get a chance to bond with their buddies in school, but due to the pandemic schools have been closed and our children are restricted to online mode of education which has taken away the fun out of school life. The online teaching mode being used in the current scenario is also adding to the burden because learning has become more complicated and difficult which can make the child more anxious.
As a result, there has been a surge in the reporting and diagnoses of mental health disorders in children in the last few months.
What is a Mental Illness?
Mental health is an overall harmony of how we think, act and behave. A mental illness, or a mental health disorder, is defined as patterns or changes in thinking, feeling, or behaving that cause distress or disrupt a person’s ability to function.
Mental health disorders in children are generally defined as delayed or disrupted age-appropriate thinking, behaviors, social skills, or regulation of emotions. A child with mental health problems is unable to function well at home, in school, or other social situations.
Today we shall discuss some of the most common and prevalent issues with mental health illnesses in children.
Challenges in treating Childhood Mental Health disorders
There are quite a few challenges that make it difficult to perceive and diagnose mental health disorders in children, the most common being :
1.Childhood itself is a period of great changeability, the changes in the behavior or actions are difficult to be pinned down to a mental health disorder.
2.Children of a certain age may find it difficult to express clearly how they feel or why they are behaving in a certain way.
3.Even today mental illness is associated with social stigma, which may cause parents to ignore the probability of a mental disorder in their child or may cause them to avoid getting treatment for it.
4.There may be a concern that medications used for treating the mental disorder may have side effects and long terms dependence issues etc.
5. The cost of treatment or the logistics involved in the treatment may deter the parents from seeking timely care for a child with a suspected mental illness.
Common Mental Health Disorders among children
Mental health disorders in children may include the following:
Anxiety disorders- Anxiety disorders in children can be expressed as persistent fears, worries, or anxiety that disrupts their ability to participate in play, school, or other age-appropriate social situations. Diagnoses include social anxiety, generalized anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. I had a case where a 3-year-old child refused to go to sleep or stay alone because she would get nightmares upon going to sleep.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) Compared with most children of the same age, children with ADHD have decreased attention span, impulsive behaviors, hyperactivity, or, mostly a combination of all these problems.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological condition that appears in early childhood — usually before the age of three. A child with ASD may have difficulty in communicating or interacting with others and may have difficulty in handling social situations.
Eating disorders Eating disorders are defined as a preoccupation with an ideal body type, disordered thinking about weight and weight loss, and unsafe eating and dieting habits. Anorexia nervosa, Bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorders are the most common eating disorders, they can cause anxiety, depression as well as result in damage to teeth gums, malnutrition and may even prove fatal. The signs can be avoiding eating or limiting portion sizes, digestive problems, hiding or hoarding food, losing weight, etc.
Depression and other Mood disorders Depression is persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest in day-to-day life, that disrupt a child’s ability to function in school and interact with others. Bipolar disorder results in extreme mood swings between depression and ecstasy. Bipolar disorder can lead to risky behavior and may often be mistaken for mood swings. Depressive behavior may cause the child to withdraw and even pose a risk of suicide.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) PTSD is prolonged emotional distress, anxiety, distressing memories, nightmares, and disruptive behaviors in response to violence, abuse, injury, or other traumatic events.
Schizophrenia Schizophrenia is a disorder in perceptions and thoughts that cause a person to lose touch with reality (psychosis). It is more common in the late teens through the 20s but may start much earlier too. Schizophrenia results in hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking and behaviors, often dismissed as an overactive imagination or childish flights of fancy.
13 Warning signs of Mental Illness in children
Warning signs that your child may have a mental health disorder include:
1.Persistent sad mood lasting for two or more weeks
2.Withdrawing from or avoiding social interactions
3.Hurting oneself or talking about hurting oneself
4.Talking about death or suicide
5.Emotional outbursts or extreme irritability
6.Impulsive behavior that can be harmful
7.Drastic changes in mood, behavior, or personality
8.Changes in eating habits, bingeing or eating very less
9. Loss of weight or weight gain
10.Change in Sleeping pattern
11.Frequent headaches or stomach aches
12.Difficulty in concentrating
13.Avoiding or missing school
What should I do if I suspect my child has a mental health condition?
If you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, consult your child’s doctor. Describe the behaviors that concern you. Talk to your child’s teacher, close friends, relatives, or other caregivers to see if they’ve noticed changes in your child’s behavior. Share this information with your child’s doctor. Your family physician might recommend that your child be evaluated by a specialist, such as a psychiatrist or a psychologist, or other mental health care professional. This evaluation might include a complete medical examination to rule out physical causes, detailed medical history, a detailed family history, Standardized assessments and questionnaires for both the child and parents, etc.
How is a mental illness in children treated?
The most common treatment options for children who have mental health conditions include:
Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy or behavior therapy, is a way to address mental health issues by talking with a psychologist or other trained mental health professional.
For young children, psychotherapy may include playing games, drawing, etc. It allows the child to express and vent out their feelings and learn how to cope with distressing situations.
Medication. Your child’s doctor or mental health professional may recommend a medication — such as a stimulant, antidepressant, anti-anxiety medication, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizer — as part of the treatment plan.
Homeopathy is an effective alternative system of medicine that can be used as an alternative or complementary therapy to allopathic drugs or psychotherapy to treat Mental health disorders in children. Homeopathy not only reduces the drug dependence on allopathic drugs, but it is also one of the best and safest treatment options for ADHD and Anxiety disorders.
How can I help my child cope with mental illness?
Once the Mental Health Professional has arrived at a diagnosis and suggested a plan of treatment, as parents there are many ways in which you can help your child cope better ;
Learn about the illness, discuss with your doctor and ask your child’s mental health professional for advice on how to respond to your child’s needs and handle difficult behavior. you can also join support groups
Consider family counseling that includes all family members as partners in the treatment plan.
Enroll in parent training programs, particularly those designed for parents of children with a mental illness.
Find ways to relax and have fun with your child.
Praise your child’s strengths and abilities and celebrate his success however small.
Handling a child with mental disorders can be stressful, you should learn some relaxation techniques that can help you stay calm and deal with it in the best possible manner.
Involve your child’s teachers and school counselors to secure the necessary support.
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