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Early Childhood: Mental Health Problems In Children

Early Childhood: Mental Health Problems

Table of Contents

Sharon McCulloch

What Are Some Common Mental Health Problems In Childhood

Mental Health Problems in children are on the rise. Children more frequently experience emotional ups and downs that will affect the way they behave and express themselves as they grow and become aware of themselves, their surroundings, and their place in the world.

This is part of the journey to adulthood, and no one is spared the trying times that childhood brings with it. However, occasionally, some children don’t ‘bounce back’ from the downs, or the unwanted behaviour persists and intensifies. Young children often ‘act out’, and this can be a crucial sign that all is not well in their minds and lives.

The first signs of a mental health crisis are emerging and will start to affect other parts of their lives, their relationships with family members, friends, carers, and teachers. So, what are some of the most common mental health problems young children experience?

Raising, the Australian Parenting Website has a dedicated webpage with comprehensive, detailed information you might like to read to further understand Mental Health Issues in children 3-8 years of age. The most common causes of Mental Health issues in children are:

  • Attention Deficit Disorders like ADHD or ADD
  • Anxiety and separation issues
  • Behaviour problems
  • Oppositional Defiance Disorder
  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Tourette Syndrome
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

These are the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children but by no means the only causes of a Mental Health Condition. Sexual, physical, or verbal abuse in a domestic setting will manifest in the way the child expresses themselves and interacts with others. Any form of abuse in childhood will have a life-long impact on the mental health of the individual and needs to be treated as quickly as possible to prevent worst-case scenarios eventuating in their teenage years when the pressure and expectations increase and demand more of them than they can give.

Mental Health Problems In Children

Warning Signs Of Mental Illness In Children

Below are signs of a mental health crisis or issue that needs to be addressed by professional assessment with a qualified doctor. If you notice any of these signs in your child, and the signs go on for more than a few weeks, it is vital that you talk with your child and then get professional help.

In some cases, one parent might be the cause of the mental health condition, and the child will be terrified into ‘keeping a secret’. Obviously, being exposed to sexual or physical abuse either directly, such as watching family members endure it, will have a significant impact on the child that is detrimental to them having good mental health and a positive outlook on life or the family environment.

Children, by nature, are meant to be happy, exuberant, excited balls of energy with a lust for adventure and playing with their friends. When that is not how a child behaves, warning flags must be raised, and the reason for the abnormal behaviour must be established and corrected.

Emotional Behaviour Signs Your child:

  • Has repeated tantrums or consistently behaves in a defiant or aggressive way
  • Is afraid, scared, or worried about harm to themselves or others
  • Gets very upset about being separated from you, or avoids social situations
  • Seems sad or unhappy, or cries a lot
  • Starts reverting to habits they have outgrown, like sucking their thumb or wetting the bed
  • Doesn’t seem to enjoy things the way they used to, even though they were once crazy about it
  • Has trouble paying attention, can’t sit still, or is restless and into everything.
Emotional Behaviour of children

Physical Signs Your child:

  • Displays physical pain that doesn’t have a clear medical cause or known reason – for example, headaches, stomach aches, nausea, bleeding from the orifices, or other physical bruises and pains.
  • Isn’t sleeping well, has night terrors, or wakes screaming or crying
  • Has lost or gained a lot of weight in a short period of time
  • Has difficulty getting out of bed or oversleeps with no energy
  • Becomes finicky with food and won’t eat
  • Becomes obsessed with food and overeats as a form of comfort
  • Flinches when physically touched
  • Won’t look men in the eye and attempts to hide when certain people or persons are present.
Physical Signs of kids in mental health

School And Social Signs

If your child is of school age, you might also notice your child’s behaviour change from what was considered normal to a new version that replaces the former baseline:

  • Doesn’t want to go to school and starts truanting
  • Isn’t doing what their teacher asks
  • Has withdrawn from their friends
  • Isn’t doing as well as usual at school and struggles to engage or participate
  • Is having problems fitting in at school or getting along with other children
  • Personality clashes with educators
  • Doesn’t want to go to social events like birthday parties
  • No longer want to play an organised sport with a coach
  • Avoids going to an old friend or relative’s house to play
  • Does not want to undertake usual activities with neighbours and friends.
  • They may suddenly stop playing video games or become more covert in hiding what they are doing
  • Self-harm in the form of cutting or getting into physical fights to feel pain
  • The verbal or written statement that; “Nobody likes me or would care if I die!”
School And Social Signs of mental health

The above lists are only a guide to some of the typical signs and symptoms of a child experiencing or entering a state of mental health illness. While a child may display some of the signs here and there, the appearance of them should raise a red flag that needs to be further explored and gently discussed.

In some cases of sexual abuse in young children, the child may not be able to talk to the parent or family member about it out of fear for their welfare or under the belief their abuser might harm the beloved family member if they tell the truth. These children are in a tremendously vulnerable position that requires expert psychological or psychiatric help to address. Read more about psychotherapy for mental illnesses.

A lot of the time, parents see the signs but choose to ignore them or do not consider them to be abnormal behaviour. In the case of multiple children with a sexual predator as one parent, family member, coach, or close friend of the family, the pattern might be harder to see as all of the children will have grown up displaying the same or similar characteristics that might be considered normal behaviour when in fact it is anything but normal behaviour.

Mental Health Problems In Childhood

What Causes Mental Health Problems In Childhood

No one thing specifically causes a child to develop a Mental Health Condition. In fact, there is an endless list of things, people, and situations that can cause childhood mental health conditions to manifest or emerge for seemingly not apparent reasons to the onlooker.

Conditions that cause mental illness might start from birth and be innate, or hereditary conditions they are genetically prone to develop, like schizophrenia, Tourette Syndrome, or Autism, and may appear shortly after birth but go unrecognised until the child learns to speak or communicate.

Conditions might arise as a result of physical and emotional stress from trauma, as in sexual or physical abuse and neglect cases, illness or an acquired brain injury from a seemingly harmless knock to the head or concussion, or a stressful emotional trauma from the loss of a loved one, orphaning, or any traumatic event they witnessed that terrified them to the point they cannot move past or ‘get over’ the situation that caused the resulting trauma and emerging mental health illness.

For more detailed information, you might like to read the article on Mom Junction on the 10 Types Of Childhood Disorders, Causes, And Treatments.

Courses Available

Understanding that mental health is not something to be ashamed of is a key priority of the medical fraternity. Having good mental health is equally as important as having good physical or aesthetic health. Mental health has always had some degree of shame surrounding it that foundations and charities are fighting to obliterate in a bid to get people openly discussing their mental health issues in the same way they do their other medical and health issues.

With the endless cost of living increases and the complete breakdown of society across all socioeconomic levels, more and more children are developing Mental Health conditions at a younger age than previously experienced. The number of adults experiencing mental health crises is also dramatically rising as the times get harder and the joy that should be experienced from life is sucked out of their world, replaced with endless bills and expenses their fixed budgets just cannot meet. Through no lack of effort, ethics, or working hard, they cannot provide in the way they would like.

That inability to achieve success becomes a failure that leads them down the road of depression and into an unhealthy mental illness that needs to be cured in the same way we cure a broken arm or fix an internal organ. We do that by speaking to medical professionals who will assess and then refer their patients to the appropriate Mental Health source needed to facilitate their return to good mental health.

Children as young as six are now hyper-aware of the cost of things due to constantly being told their parents can’t afford the item they desire. Poverty has a pervasive creep in young children developing onset mental health illnesses that can be treated easily. One way to ensure you are able to recognise the signs of a child, teenager, or adult experiencing a Mental Health Crisis is to take a Mental Health Course.

Kids mental health

Hundreds of providers offer courses online, and with a little research, you will find several close to you. In Australia, you might like to check out the following:

Emerging minds: ‘This course explores mental health for children aged 0-12 years. It will help practitioners to identify the factors that support positive mental health in children and understand how the different parts of a child’s world interact to influence their social and emotional wellbeing’.

FirstAidPro MHFA Mental Health Course: ‘Would you know how to spot the signs of a mental health condition in a colleague or friend? And would you know how to provide effective first aid in a crisis? FirstAidPro’s Mental Health First Aid course will teach you how to recognise and respond to the symptoms of mental health distress, including where to go for professional help and what treatments are available.’

The content on this website offers general insights regarding health conditions and potential treatments. It is not intended as, and should not be construed as, medical advice. If you are facing a medical emergency, dial 000 immediately and follow the guidance provided.

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