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Early Signs of Mental Illness in Children

Mental Illness is Hard to Spot in Children

It is not always easy to detect the early signs of mental illness in children, as they grow through stages, bring imaginary friends to dinner, and satisfy their sensory needs. There is a thin line between normal childhood oddness and mental illness oddities. Therefore, it is of extreme importance for parents to pay attention to their child’s behavior, especially if there has been environmental stress, trauma, or if a disorder runs in the family.[1] What they think is just a phase, may not be so.

Mental Illness Can Begin in Childhood

Preoccupation with food and weight may be the beginning signs of an eating disorder, especially if they are unable to focus on other parts of their life because of it.1 Mental IllnessTreated early enough could stop the child from developing a full-blown disorder and months or years of hardship and unhealthy eating patterns.1

It is also well-known that one in ten children are diagnosed with ADHD.1 Inattentiveness, hyper-activity, and impulsive behavior that severely interferes with their schooling, social, and family lives are all signs of the mental illness.1 Medications are available to help with the symptoms, and behavioral therapy has been shown to work wonders. It is also important for parents to look for symptoms of anxiety and depression if their child has been diagnosed with ADHD, as these are common co-occurring conditions that often tag along.1 Suicide is also more prevalent in this group.1

Mood disorders, also known as affective disorders, may begin with early signs in childhood. Disorders in this group range from depression to bipolar disorder.1 The child may have constant feelings of sadness and out-of-the-order mood swings.1 Still, children do not show the symptoms as adults, so the mental illness may be difficult to diagnose.1

Schizophrenia is another mental illness that can affect children, characterized by a degeneration of thinking and emotional processes.1 Schizophrenia makes it difficult for children to differentiate between what is real and unreal, relate to other people, and manage emotions.1

How to Spot Mental Illness

Parents should look for difficulties concentrating, drastic changes in personality and behavior, aggression, chronic sadness, overwhelming fears, rapid breathing and heart rate, and drug and alcohol use.1 If any of these symptoms are affecting your child, a visit to a psychiatrist may help to figure out if it is a sign of mental illness or not. It’s better to be safe than sorry.


[1] Ahmed-Yusuf, R. (n.d.). Signs of Early Mental Illness. Leadership Newspapers. Retrieved March 20, 2013, from http://leadership.ng/nga/articles/49596/2013/03/09/signs_early_mental_illness.html mental illness.

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