Mental health is an important component of a child’s overall wellbeing. It involves the child’s emotional, mental, and behavioral state, and affects how they feel, think, and act on a daily basis. Ultimately, mental health will affect how children cope with stress, relate to others, build friendships, and make choices—therefore, it should be an important health consideration as your young one grows up.
If you are a parent of a child or teenager, and researching mental health concerns, you are not alone.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), most children and adolescents experience signs of positive mental health, such as affection, resilience, and curiosity. However, an estimated 50 percent of adolescents (between the ages of 13 and 18) have already been affected by a mental health disorder.
This makes sense, as research shows most mental health problems develop in the younger years.
Parents of older children and teenagers need to be aware of good mental health, as well as the potential for an emerging mental health problem. Now, more than ever, this is critical. Children and teenagers, in a post-pandemic era, are more affected by mental disturbances than they were historically. The rates of depression, anxiety, drug overdose, and self-harm among adolescents have been climbing as younger generations have encountered more grief, isolation, and anxiety caused by the pandemic.
As a parent, it is important for you to educate yourself about child and adolescent mental health, and to equip yourself with the knowledge and resources to help your child effectively. Here are some common questions we receive from parents about child and adolescent mental health, as well as important facts.
When Does Mental Illness Begin in Childhood or Adolescence?
National research shows that half of all mental health disorders begin by the age of 14. An estimated 75 percent of mental illnesses begin by the age of 24.
Children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to mental health risk factors—such as stress, abuse, and substance use—as their brains are in a period of development. In fact, the brain does not fully develop until a person’s mid-twenties, and disruptions during that process can create lasting changes that affect one’s mental health.
The first onset of mental health conditions can often be missed or mistaken for other conditions. For example, extreme mood swings or self-esteem issues in adolescence may be shrugged off as “normal” teenage behavior, but could indicate a mental health issue. Keep reading to learn about which behaviors can signal a mental health disorder in children and adolescents.
What are the Signs of Poor Mental Health in Children and Adolescents?
There are many potential indicators of a mental health problem in children and teenagers, and symptoms will vary depending on the person and the condition they are facing. In general, it’s been found that younger children typically exhibit behavioral signs of a mental health disorder, such as:
- Problems at school or dropping grades
- Hyperactive behavior, such as the inability to sit still or complete a task
- Difficulty sleeping, sometimes including frequent nightmares
- Intense anger or temper tantrums, as well as aggression towards others
- Disobedience and defiance of the rules
- Excessive worry or anxieties that may seem irrational
As adolescents grow and develop mentally, physically, and emotionally, they may start to exhibit more tell-tale signs of mental illness in their teen years. You can read a full list of red flags in teens here, as well as some of the most typical signs below:
- Overwhelming worry or fear
- Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Extreme mood swings, which may involve uncontrollable “highs” and “lows”
- Inability to cope with difficult or stressful situations
- Problems concentrating, learning, or carrying out regular activities
- Threats or attempts of self-harm
- Withdrawal from family, friends, obligations, and once-loved activities
- Lack of awareness and inability to relate to others
- Drug and alcohol abuse
What are the Common Mental Health Problems in Young People?
It is reported that, between the ages of 3 and 16 years old, the most common mental health disorders are attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems.
Other common mental health disorders among adolescents include eating disorders and substance use disorders, as these teens begin to rely more on the approval of their friends and peers.
You can read more about the most common mental health disorders in young people here.
What are the Causes of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Issues?
It is important for parents to know that anyone, of any background or upbringing, can be affected by mental illness. However, there are certain risk factors that can put a person at greater susceptibility for developing a mental health disorder. These include:
- History of trauma, abuse, or neglect in younger years
- History of mental illness in the family, such as a parent or sibling
- Stressful situations in early life, such as poverty, divorce, or death
- Unhealthy habits, such as poor nutrition, lack of sleep, and lack of self-care
- Prenatal exposure to drugs, alcohol, toxic chemicals, or even excessive stress
- Drug and alcohol use during adolescence, which can have long-term effects
- Persistent loneliness, isolation, lack of friends, and feelings of being alone
- Infections or trauma that can cause brain damage, as well as constant coping with chronic illness
- An imbalance of natural chemicals in the brain, otherwise known as biological factors
Learn more about the causes of mental illness in youth here.
Why is Mental Health a Growing Concern for Children and Adolescents?
Mental health is becoming an increasing concern, and several organizations have declared that we are currently – in the year 2022 – amid a youth mental health crisis in America. There are many, many factors contributing to the rise of mental health problems in young people, starting even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As described in our recent article, “Why is there a Rise in Teenage Mental Health Problems?”, the rates of mental illness and suicide attempts have been climbing in the last decade. Between 2009 and 2019, for example, the rate of depression doubled in adolescents. And in 2020, amid the pandemic, over one million youth took a mental health screening—an increase of over 600 percent when compared to 2019.
The top reasons that mental health problems are increasing in teenagers are due to a multitude of factors, including:
- The ongoing fear and grief caused by the COVID-19 pandemic
- The isolation and missed milestones forced by the COVID-19 pandemic
- The increasing use of social media, and teens’ tendency to glamorize the lives of others virtually
- The growing academic pressure placed on teenagers to succeed
- The permeating, larger stressors in the world that are weighing on youth, such as racism, gun violence, and climate change
- The increasing use of substances in order to cope with these stressors, or simply fit in with friends
Where to Find Child and Adolescent Mental Health Treatment
If you are concerned that your child or adolescent is facing a mental health disorder, the most important thing you can do is to seek professional help. Early intervention of mental illness during childhood and adolescent can be a key indicator of long-term recovery and success.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that, on average, people wait 11 years between the onset of symptoms and getting treatment for a mental illness. This is because many people are ashamed to seek help, to admit they (or a loved one) has a problem, or are facing other barriers to access treatment. As a parent, you have the power to help your loved one early. You have the power to recognize their struggles and to find the resources to ensure they live a healthy, productive life.
The question remains, how?
As you research child and adolescent mental health facilities, it is important to look for one that:
- Is specialized in treating children, adolescents, and young adults with mental health disorders
- Ensures that each client receives a personalized treatment plan, tailored to his or her needs
- Utilizes a range of evidence-based therapies that have been proven to help young people
- Involves the family members during the treatment process, as this is key for adolescents
- Addresses the whole person and their needs, not just the mental illness – for example, offering help with academics, trauma therapy, substance abuse treatment, physical support, and more
At the end of the day, it is important to find a treatment center that offers your child a personalized, individualized treatment plan that incorporates all his or her needs, and with which your child feels comfortable. Choose a treatment center that is reputable, with age-specific programs, and specialized in child and adolescent mental health. If you are looking for a full checklist of what to look for, please click here.
If you would like to get in touch with a treatment specialist today, do not hesitate to call Turnbridge. Turnbridge is a recognized mental health treatment center for adolescents and young adults. You may call us at 877-581-1793 today. You may also learn more about our adolescent program online here.