Childhood is usually a time of our lives that we enjoy looking back on. However, there are people whose childhood is also a time when some mental health issues start manifesting themselves. As a parent, you’d want to pay close attention to the first possible signs. Why? Firstly, because your child deserves a childhood to look back at with joy and, secondly, because some of them might be chronic and become life-long conditions. This article will give you a short glimpse into what kind of conditions are found in early years, what easy-to-spot symptoms to keep an eye out for and what actions to consider if you notice them.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – although it is normal for kids to have a short attention spam, be energetic or get impulsive about certain things, a child that displays any, some or all of these behaviours in a consistent manner might have a form of ADHD. Undiagnosed and untreated, it can affect a person’s present and future life, from school performance to relationships and general wellbeing.
Autism – those on the autistic spectrum are usually diagnosed by age 3. However, mild forms of autism can go undiagnosed for a very long time, placing the child or the teenager in a position where their interaction with others is affected, as well as their interests and their behaviour in social situations.
Anxiety disorders – anxiety is healthy as long as it helps a human being adapt to the environment and be aware of possible dangers. However, there are forms of maladaptive anxiety, making young people develop certain disorders with long-term effects on their life. Some of the most common manifestations are obsessive compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. People with anxiety symptoms will not be able to attend to their daily activities or will require greater effort. Children going through difficult life events, like bullying, parents’ divorce, accidents, etc. can develop post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that can affect them long enough after the event occurred, sometimes even for life.
Eating disorders are usually more common in teenagers, but currently the age of onset is rapidly decreasing to younger and younger ages. Bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa are two of the most well-known eating disorders. They can have a serious impact on one’s mental and physical health, often seen as potentially life-scaring and life-threatening conditions.
Mood disorders. Mood swings are normal in children and adolescents, but recurrent and intense feelings of sadness or over-excitement can be a sign of a mood disorder, such as depression or bipolar disorder.
Changes that should concern you
Behaviour – with every day, your child learns something new and behaves a bit differently to yesterday. However, there are situations when such changes don’t help them adapt to the environment and even make their life harder. Start ask yourself if everything is ok if you spot signs of aggressiveness and challenging behaviour, an expressed desire to hurt themselves or others, withdrawal, social isolation or crying for no apparent reason and more than once a day (in adolescents).
Mood and feelings – intense feelings that disrupt a child’s activity, sleep and/or schedule can be a sign that they are developing a mood disorder, especially if they last for more than a couple of weeks.
Concentration problems – not being able to pay attention to activities considered specific for their age group (e.g., school subjects, play or other enjoyable activities) or even having a problem sitting still can be major warning signs that the child might develop ADHD.
Physical changes – young people’s bodies change a lot through the years, but there are situations when some individuals might lose or gain a lot of weight in a short time span, while changing their eating habits as well. Their discourse might be very much focussed on body issues, which should make a parent consider an undiagnosed eating disorder.
Substance abuse and physical harm – Because for children and teenagers in general can find it difficult to cope with their emotions, developing a mental condition might push them into using other means of expressing themselves. Alcohol, drugs, self-harm or even delinquent behaviours can be more than signs of young rebelliousness – they can be signs of a serious mental health condition that might enter their life and never leave, if undiagnosed.
If you think your child acts unusually, doesn’t feel themselves anymore and you find them difficult to cope with, try looking for help. There is always a way to resolve things or make them better. Medication and/or therapy, as well as love for and understanding of your child can protect them from the long-life pain and isolation that may come with undiagnosed/misdiagnosed mental health conditions. Should you require psychotherapeutic support or counselling for your child or yourself as a parent, please feel free to contact us. Making a move early can help you and your child embrace who they are, look for the best solutions and start enjoying life again.