Child Mental Health

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Depression and mental health problems don’t just affect adults; children and teenagers can develop mental illness too. According to the Office of National Statistics, around one in 10 children in the UK between the ages of 5 and 16 have a recognisable mental health problem and around 4 percent are suffering from anxiety and stress.

It can be difficult to diagnose a mental health problem in a child, partly because they may have difficulty expressing their feelings so cannot tell us what is going on, and partly because the symptoms are often attributed to something else, or the child is just being “difficult”.

One of the main things to look out for in your child is persistent sadness with the absence of any obvious reason. For example, it would be perfectly normal for your child to experience sadness and low moods after a family breakdown or bereavement but if this is severe or persists then it could be an early warning sign that your child is developing a mental health problem such as depression.

Other symptoms and early warning signs of a mental health problem in your child include:

•    Vague aches and pains, particularly headaches or tummy aches for which there is no obvious cause
•    Being unwilling to go to school and/or performing badly in school
•    Losing interest in activities they used to enjoy
•    Having poor self esteem and low confidence
•    Becoming withdrawn and spending a lot of time alone or daydreaming
•    Changes in eating habits and sleeping patterns

It’s also important to note that just because your child displays some or even all of these symptoms it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a mental health problem. Only a qualified professional can diagnose a mental health problem in your child as they can take into consideration the full medical history of the child, current circumstances and evaluate the symptoms and rule out any other possible causes of the symptoms.

What causes mental health problems in children?

No one fully understands what causes mental health problems in general, or why they can occur in children. What is known is that genetics, biology, brain chemistry, environmental factors and life experiences can all play a contributory role.

Treating a child with mental health problems?

Once your child has been diagnosed with a mental health problem by a qualified medical professional, treatment will normally consist of some form of talking therapy perhaps in conjunction with anti-depressants depending on how severe the symptoms are.

You too can make a difference by ensuring that you give your child plenty of opportunity to talk about how they are feeling, even if they find it difficult to put it into words. Encourage your child to exercise and get outside regularly as this can have a positive effect on their mental health.

One of the most important things you can do for your child is to reassure the child that they are valued and cared for and to understand that their suffering is very real. Yes you will need patience and life will be difficult at times but with the right care and support within a loving and caring environment, the majority of children with mental health problems go on to make a full and complete recovery sooner rather than later.

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