Statistics from the Mental Health Commission of Canada show an estimated 1.2 million children and youth in Canada are affected by mental illness—yet, less than 20 per cent will receive appropriate treatment. By age 25, approximately 20 per cent of Canadians will have developed a mental illness and 70% of total adults with mental illness have their symptoms originating in their childhood. The most common childhood mental health disorders include: depression, anxiety, eating disorders, ADHD, and schizophrenia.
With these staggering statistics it is important to be able to recognize and help your child overcome this common medical problem.
Something Isn't Right
Children, like adults, have their ups and downs in life. However, when children start showing changes in their overall behavior it can be due to underlying issues of mental illness. A parent always knows their child best and needs to recognize when their child's behavior changes. This is sometimes hard when children spends the majority of their day away from home at day care or school so make sure you are communicating with teachers and child care providers about any concerns you may have.
Changes in mental health with kids can be of immediate onset or of a gradual onset.
Reasons for immediate onset include: divorce, death in the family, physical trauma, moving, changing schools, the addition of a new member to the family, and loss of a close friend.
It is a lot easier in these situations to see if your child is having trouble coping after these quick changes occur in their lives. It is harder to spot when there is a gradual change in your child's behavior. Parents might categorize their child as "shy", "introverted", "independent", or "changed because they have gotten older", when it really means that they are struggling with a mental illness.
The onset of mental illness varies with the type of disorder. Infants can even show signs of early anxiety but often children show signs after the age of 7. Schizophrenia signs start to appear in the late teen and into the early twenties.
What to Look For
Physical Changes- Children, more than adults, will complain of stomach aches or headaches rather than feelings of anxiety or depression. Extreme anxiety can cause a racing heart or increased rate of breathing.
Loss of Appetite- when your child stops eating the usual amount, gets very picky with eating, or has unexplained weight loss, it can be a sign they are struggling with anxiety, depression or an eating disorder.
Behavioral Changes- children will start to lash out or have fits of anger and often act with violence or talk a lot about hurting people or themselves. Often teachers will be phoning home and are concerned with their behaviour.
Mood Changes- This is a very common symptom to look for and the child will have large mood swings or episodes of mood changes that last for more than 2 weeks. Often parents feel that they don't know what kind of child will wake up in the morning. The child will also start to have trouble with friendships and at school.
Physical Harm- signs of self harm such as cutting, burning, or the use of drugs/alcohol can be a sign that your child is struggling with self worth and purpose. Severe mental health issues can also lead the child to suicide attempts or thoughts of suicide.
Intense Feelings- Anxiety and depression can cause a child to have extreme feelings of fear for simple things, or worries and fears that interfere with daily activities.
Do not ignore any concerns you may have of your child having mental health issues. Sometimes parents will blame themselves if their child has mental health problems and do not bring the child for help. Some parents feel that the symptoms will just disappear but often they don't. Statistics show that in Canada, only 20% of children with mental health problems receive treatment. Children with untreated mental illness are more likely to drop out of school, engage in criminal activity, and abuse drugs and alcohol. Mental illness in children is serious, as suicide is the second most common cause of death in youth in Canada! There are many resources in the community. Start with your family health care provider and get direction on what to do and where to go.
Activity fact: Exercise is proven to be more effective than conventional medication for mild depression and anxiety. Get out and get active!