Take Charge of Your Health - Attention to Mental Health Starts Early
The mental health of our children must be seen as every bit as important
as their physical health.
Although much emphasis falls on one’s physical health, we all know how important mental health is to our overall well-being, a healthy home life and a productive work life. Sadly, mental health disorders affecting children and adolescents are currently at an alarmingly high level. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, about 20% of American children suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in a given year and approximately 5 million American children and adolescents suffer from a serious mental illness that significantly interferes with their day-to-day life. According to MedicineNet.com: the most common kind of mental disorders are anxiety disorders, like generalized anxiety disorder (formerly called overanxious disorder of childhood) or separation anxiety disorder. Other common types of mental illnesses in childhood include behavior disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mood disorders like depression, and substance-use disorders like alcohol use disorders. Their statistics indicate how relatively common these disorders occur. ADHD affects 8%-10% of school-aged children. Depression occurs at a rate of about 2% during childhood and from 4%-7% during adolescence, affecting up to about 20% of adolescents by the time they reach adulthood. In teens more frequently than in younger children, addictions, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, and less often, early onset schizophrenia may manifest.
The exact causes of mental health disorders are not yet fully known, but research tells us it is likely a combination of factors including: heredity, biology, chemicals in the brain, psychological trauma and the stress of school or social pressures. Untreated mental health disorders can easily spiral into unsafe behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse, violence and even suicide. These disorders can also have a serious and negative impact on the child’s long term physical health as they are linked to the prevalence of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
WebMD reports that the most common mental illnesses found in children are: anxiety disorders, disruptive behavior, eating disorders, depression and mood disorders, schizophrenia and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). If we look at anxiety disorders alone, while there is a 17% increase in the diagnosis of anxiety disorders as few as 1% of the youth receive treatment. (Child Mind Institute, 2018). Symptoms to watch out for in our children include:
Poor school performance
Absences from school; physical ailments
Inability to cope with daily problems
Difficulty concentrating and staying focused
Use of drugs and/or alcohol; self-medicating
Changes in sleep or eating habits
Anger, negative moods
Isolation from friends and family
Through a medical interview and/or physical exam, many health care professionals, including pediatricians, licensed therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers are well positioned to make the correct diagnosis of a mental health problem. When treated appropriately and early, many children will either fully recover from their mental health issue or be able to successfully control their symptoms. Without treatment, disorders can continue through adulthood and cause high risk behaviors such as substance abuse, physical abuse and other self-destructive behaviors.
The most common treatment options include: psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy to help the child understand and manage their symptoms, irrational thoughts and behaviors; medications (such as antidepressants, anxiety drugs or antipsychotics); and creative therapies such as art or music therapy. Additionally a supportive, compassionate environment, good sleep, a nutritious diet and a healthy amount of exercise are all beneficial. Often a combination of these therapies and close collaboration with parents, teachers and health care professionals produces strong results and brings significant relief to the child.
If you have any questions about your child, call your pediatrician or primary care provider for a frank discussion of your concerns and observations.
As always, please review the other blogs on this Health-E³ website blog page We look forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences. Feel free to ask a question about anything on the website or suggest ideas for additional helpful information. And remember, it's up to you to Take Charge of Your Health.