As difficult as it is to diagnose disorders that happen within the mind, it is even more difficult when you are dealing with a child. Unfortunately there are a vast number of children who suffer from some type of mental illness. What makes it even worse is that even though we use the term “mental” illness; there are physical effects as well. These children are dealing with an illness that makes daily life incredibly difficult. Luckily, many of the disorders can be treated with medication or a form of counseling known as psychotherapy.
While there are a substantial number of mental illnesses that affect children, below is a list of the most commonly diagnosed disorders, how the child is affected, and the general course of treatment.
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Probably the most common disorder and the one that most people have heard of, ADHD often makes children seem “out of control.” Many parents assume that their child is simply misbehaving or acting out, but they are actually suffering from a very frustrating mental disorder. Children who suffer from ADHD are hyperactive; they just can’t seem to sit down or hold still and are constantly moving around. They are quickly bored with any item or activity that you involve them in and become easily frustrated. Children with ADHD seem incapable of following directions and they have incredible difficulty concentrating or directing their full attention to anything.
Because children themselves do not understand why they feel the way they do, they often act out in anger or aggression. Frequent temper tantrums occur and children with ADHD are difficult to calm down. This disorder generally requires both medication and therapy in order to get the child to stay calm and focused long enough to work through the disorder. ADHD is one of the disorders that always starts in childhood but can continue into adulthood.
While there are a number of children who struggle with learning and often take more time to be where they should be academically, there are others who are struggling with a severe learning disorder. These disorders make it incredibly difficult for children to process information and really comprehend it. Other times, it will seem as though a child understands a concept but then they are unable to store the information and end up forgetting it.
What makes learning disorders even more frustrating is that the children are even unable to process their own thoughts or ideas. The most brilliant child can be stifled by a learning disorder, and until treated will seem less than intelligent.
Anxiety disorders cause children to be overcome with a sense of dread during certain situations. The response could be to any circumstance and becomes worse when the anxiety is triggered by a regular daily activity such as going to school. Parents often mistake this behavior as their child simply rebelling, but there are physical signs that you can watch for. When a child is suffering from anxiety and is consumed by feelings of fear and dread, they will often have a sudden rapid heartbeat or be sweating. Depending on the severity, children may also begin breathing rapidly and some even experience fainting spells.
Also called affective disorders, this kind of disorder is a child’s form of depression or bipolar disorder. The child experiences ongoing feelings of intense sadness; they may have quick and intense mood swings, and can’t seem to get a handle on their feelings.
Children who always seem to be “faking” physical ailments or illnesses may actually be suffering from schizophrenia. While this disorder is more common in adults, children often experience it as well. Often, parents believe that their child is simply seeking attention or trying to get out of doing something or going somewhere. Strange behaviors such as seeing things that aren’t there, smelling a sudden odor, or speaking in a way that doesn’t make sense may all be signs that a child is suffering from this disorder. The symptoms of schizophrenia generally came on very suddenly and are very intense.
Schizophrenia severely distorts thinking, actions, and emotions. The perception of reality is completely distorted as well which makes schizophrenia one of the most life altering and disabling mental illnesses. Unfortunately, it is also one disease that can be treated and controlled but not cured; most people suffer their whole lives. Schizophrenia causes an entire loss of reality. The child cannot differentiate between what is real and what has been created within their own mind; but both are equally terrifying. Children who suffer from this disorder will often withdraw, want to be alone, and have difficulty managing their emotions.
Most Common Symptoms
While the symptoms that children suffer will vary depending on the mental illness that they are dealing with, there are a few symptoms that are pretty general regardless of the disorder.
• Unable to cope with day to day activities or problems that arise
• Major changes in sleeping or eating habits; may experience weight loss or gain
• Sudden and recurrent angry or violent outbursts
• School performance fails, often even despite putting forth effort
• Constant depressed moods; these are commonly accompanied by poor appetite and even thoughts of death in older children
• Loss of interest; they suddenly want nothing to do with friends or activities they once enjoyed and often begin spending more and more time alone
• Constant temper tantrums; often that arise for no reason
• Hallucinations and/or night terrors
• Constant worry and anxiety
• Older kids will often begin abusing drugs or alcohol, defy authority, damage property, and begin skipping school
If you suspect, for any reason, that your child may be dealing with mental illness, the best thing to do is have them seen right away. Talk to your doctor as soon as you think something may be wrong. As their parent you know them better than anyone else and can clearly identify when a major change has occurred in their habits or behaviors. Don’t wait and hope that it will go away; the sooner you seek help for your child, the sooner they can begin battling the illness and making their way back to the child they were.