First of all, mental health problems can affect anyone of any age, even young children. Indeed, around 10 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 16 have a mental health problem according to the Office of National Statistics and around 4 percent are suffering from some form of anxiety and stress.
One of the main difficulties surrounding infant, child and youth mental health problems is that it can be more difficult to diagnose a mental health problem in a younger person. There are several reasons for this but the main ones are that younger people, particularly very young children, can have difficulty expressing their feelings and are not as able to tell us exactly what’s going on in their minds. Another reason that diagnosing mental health problems in younger people is difficult is because the symptoms can quite often be attributed to something else and not to a mental health problem.
For example, it is perfectly normal for teenagers to go through a period of turmoil; we can all understand that, however, differentiating between what is a normal part of growing up and what could be a mental health problem is not so straightforward.
So what are the main symptoms of mental health problems in children and young adults and how can you recognise them?
The signs and symptoms of a mental health problem in children and young adults are similar to the mental health symptoms displayed in older adults.
- - Persistent sadness and melancholy
- - Vague aches and pains with no obvious physical cause
- - Performing badly in school (or work related problems in the case of adults)
- - Having low self esteem and confidence
- - Losing interest in activities they used to enjoy
- - Changes in eating patterns leading to weight loss or weight gain
- - Disrupted sleeping patterns where the young person finds it difficult to go to sleep or is sleeping too much
- - Outbursts of anger and emotion
- - Showing excessive fearfulness, clinginess and insecurity
- - Becoming overly concerned about how they look
- - Avoidance of social activities and social contact
- - Constant fidgeting, agitation and restlessness
- - Poor concentration
- - Displaying obsessive behaviour
- - Acting in a destructive manner
- - Inability to follow simple instructions and carry out tasks
An older child may also express feelings of being out of control of their lives, show disorganised behaviour, experience delusions or hallucinations, or indulge in drugs or alcohol or may even talk about suicide.
If you have the slightest doubt that your child is suffering from a mental health problem of any sort then don’t delay, speak to your doctor who will be able to advise you or if necessary refer you to a more specialised professional.