The following guest article from Swedish Health Services/Providence Health & Services is the fourth in a series debunking myths about mental illness that will be featured here on the SeattleNTC blog.
Myth #4: Children are too young to develop mental illness
From inconsolable preschoolers to moody teenagers, how do you know if it’s just a phase or a symptom of mental illness?
“The difficult thing for parents is identifying what is a normal part of growing up, and what needs intervention,” said Dr. Joyce Gilbert, medical director of the Sexual Assault Clinic and Child Maltreatment Center at Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia, Wash.
A phase is something that is developmental or temporary, and comes and goes. On the other hand, mental illness is something that does not dissipate. If a child is not overcoming a “phase” then parents, teachers, physicians and others should ask why and engage with resources early to ensure the child gets the help needed.
Mental illness can happen to anyone at any age, and in fact, one in five children suffers with mental health conditions such as anxiety, difficulty focusing and social challenges. Half of all lifetime mental illnesses begin by age 14; brushing off issues as a phase kids and teens will eventually grow out of can lead to other problems later in life.
Early intervention is key
“Most of the time, the first signs of mental health issues occur in preschool or kindergarten, when children are surrounded by other children,” said Felisha White, RN, Psychiatric Center for Children and Adolescents at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Wash. “At that point, it becomes clear to their teachers and their parents that they aren’t behaving like their peers.”
For older children, White suggests watching for sudden behavioral changes, such as angry outbursts, declining grades, isolation from friends, or disruptions in normal sleeping, eating and hygiene habits.
Sources: National Alliance for Mental Illness; National Institute for Mental Health