Have you noticed your child acting “off” for the last few weeks or months? Perhaps they’re simply not being themselves, or they’re showing traits and characteristics that seem concerning. How can you tell if they’re going through a crisis versus simply transitioning into adolescence? What should you do if they are indeed struggling through a mental health crisis?
Here, we discuss some guidelines you can use to recognize the early warning signs of mental illness in children and what to do if they arise.
Recognizing Off-Brand Behaviors
It’s very difficult to tell the difference between a child throwing a temper tantrum versus identifying that they are seriously struggling with something. This is especially difficult when they do not yet have the vocabulary to communicate what is happening to them.
You know your child better than anyone, so you will have to consider whether or not their behavior falls within the “normal” range of tantrums. Just remember that “normal” itself is a flexible term and differs for every person. Make note of these behavioral changes, and bring them up to a doctor or peer.
Certain behaviors can be “tell-tales” of inner turmoil. These behaviors center around your child simply not acting like themselves.
These changes can be slight and difficult to pinpoint. Some examples of changed behavior are:
- A significant mood change that lasts for over 2 weeks
- Intense feelings that are misplaced (i.e., feeling very fearful or anxious in a safe place)
- Decrease in concentration
- A decline in school performance
- Frequent tantrums
- Physical symptoms (frequent headaches or stomach aches)
- Signs of self-inflicted harm
What to Do if You Identify These Behaviors
If you have noticed a change in behavior in your child for more than 2 weeks, talk to a spouse or family friend who also knows them to see if they have also noticed the change. You can also talk to your child if they are of the age to understand this type of conversation.
The next step would be to take your child to a medical professional and get a proper workup or diagnosis. It is not advised to diagnose your child for them or to try to treat them yourself. If you think you have noticed concerning signs in your child, make a note of all the behaviors that seem different from their usual behaviors, and how they are different, and present them to your child’s doctor.
While it is important to seek medical attention if mental health concerns arise, it is also just as important to make your child feel safe and validated. When approaching your child about this topic, make sure to come with an open and welcoming tone, not one of criticism or accusation. The way the dialogue starts will dictate whether or not your child is willing to talk to you about what they are going through.
Recovery and Treatment Centers
Warning signs of mental illness in a child are not a final sentence. There are plenty of options for treatment and recovery, especially if diagnosis happens earlier rather than later. Take your child to a doctor. If the doctor diagnoses a condition, consider taking your child to a treatment center (if a need for that has been established).
Finding a recovery center is only a quick internet search away. At Clear Recovery Center in California, for example, they offer adolescent males treatment for depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, PTSD, and many other ailments.
If your child shows the early signs of mental illness, remember that it doesn’t change who they are. They are still your child and look to you for support and guidance. Talk to your child if possible and talk to your child’s doctor about the behavioral changes you have noticed. Together, you can all figure out a plan for how to proceed in their treatment and recovery.