Know the Warning Signs: Mental Health Issues in Children & Teens
As a parent or caregiver, it can be hard to know whether your child is exhibiting behaviors that are normal for their age or if there’s something deeper going on.
You may find yourself saying “I guess that’s just how they are at that age,” or “Teenagers, am I right?” when they are being difficult or acting out.
However, it’s important to be aware of the signs that your child or teenager is struggling with their mental health because, if ignored, this can greatly impact important development milestones and areas of life including: relationships with peers and family; learning ability; emotional development and physical development; and even your child’s ability to navigate the world or simply get through each day.
Keep reading to learn how to spot the signs that your child or teen is struggling with their mental health—and what you, as a parent, can do to help them thrive.
Signs of Mental Health Issues in Children
Children may exhibit signs of mental health issues in many different ways, which can vary from child to child.
Here are some common signs to look out for:
- Outbursts, tantrums or lashing out
- Extreme anger, rage or irritability
- Persistent sadness lasting two or more weeks
- Hurting oneself or expressing a desire to hurt oneself
- Fascination with death or suicide
- Hitting or acting violently towards other children or adults
- Drastic changes in mood or personality
- Sleeping problems such as having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, bedwetting or nightmares
- Loss of weight or refusal to eat
- Frequent stomach aches
- Frequent headaches
- Extreme shyness
- Poor academic performance
- Difficulty focusing
- Avoiding or missing school
- Bullying others
- Reporting being bullied
- Being socially withdrawn or avoidant
Signs that your child is struggling with their mental health can differ depending on what age they are. This blog post further discusses additional signs of mental health issues in infants, toddlers and young children.
Signs of Mental Health Issues in Teenagers
According to Verywell Mind, the following signs are indicative of mental health issues in teenagers:
- Being irritable or angry frequently
- Feeling overwhelmingly sad, worried, scared, or hopeless
- Experiencing extreme mood swings—such as alternating between euphoria and depression
- Behaving moody and withdrawn. They may stop communicating with you and prefer to be isolated. They may stop seeing their friends, or communicating with them via phone, text, or social media.
- Losing interest in activities they once enjoyed
- Developing a fear of common things or being scared to try new things
- Having difficulty coping with everyday activities and stressors
- Being unable to relate to others or express their emotions
- Changing their appearance drastically or neglecting their personal hygiene
- Picking fights with friends, family members, teachers, or school authorities
- Sleeping all the time or having trouble sleeping. They may often feel tired or low on energy.
- Eating all the time or having no appetite. You may notice changes in their weight or eating habits.
- Having unexplained physical ailments such as headaches, stomach aches, or other complaints
- Having difficulty with learning, thinking, remembering, or concentrating
- Performing poorly at school or having no interest in school work
- Using substances such as alcohol, marijuana, or drugs
- Engaging in risky, unsafe behaviors or causing trouble at home, school, or in their community
- Engaging in self-harm
- Talking about death or suicide
How to Help Your Child or Teen
Healing starts at home. If you notice your child is acting differently or having a difficult time, encourage them to talk openly with you about their feelings. Create safe spaces for them to talk without the fear of being judged. Voice your concerns to teachers, coaches and other adults who are involved in your child’s life. They may be able to provide extra information about what is going on, or simply play a supportive role in your child’s life.
Provide your child with downtime, space and opportunities for self-care. Treat them with compassion, especially if they are acting out. Don’t forget to treat yourself with compassion and practice self-care too. Be patient—they might not feel like opening up at first, so continue to encourage them and remind them you’re here for them when they need you.
Your child or teen may also feel more comfortable talking to a mental healthcare professional who can provide them with additional support and an outside perspective.
Valera Health’s Child and Adolescent Program (CAP) was designed specifically with children, teens and adolescents ages 6-17 as well as for parents and caregivers. Through an age-appropriate and data-driven approach, our CAP therapists, psychiatrists and nurse practitioners have continually seen improved outcomes for their patients. Our Health Connectors are here to help you and your child find a licensed mental healthcare provider who’s the perfect fit. Visit www.valerahealth.com/consult-today/ or click here to schedule a free consultation.