Recognising Mental Health Issues in Children | 6 min read

Discovering that a child may be grappling with a mental health disorder can be overwhelming for parents. However, with accurate information and professional guidance, parents can become invaluable allies in their child’s journey, offering unwavering support and taking proactive steps to assist them. Connecting with support groups can provide solace and valuable insights. Early detection and intervention are crucial, and working together as a team allows for open communication and the best outcome for the child.

Why Early Recognition Matters

  • Effective Intervention: Early detection allows for prompt intervention, preventing the escalation of problems and improving the child’s prognosis. Early treatment can also mitigate the long-term impact of mental health issues on the child’s life.
  • Developmental Impact: Mental health problems can significantly affect a child’s development, including their emotional, social, and academic growth. Timely intervention can address these challenges and support healthy development.
  • Reduced Stigma: Early recognition helps reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues by promoting open discussions and acceptance. It encourages children and their families to seek support without fear of judgment.
  • Improved Coping Skills: Early intervention provides opportunities to teach children coping skills and resilience, enabling them to manage stressors and challenges better in the future.

Signs of Mental Health Issues in Children

  • Changes in Behaviour: Noticeable changes in behaviour, such as increased irritability, aggression, withdrawal, or excessive worrying, could indicate underlying mental health concerns.
  • Emotional Dysregulation: Children may struggle to regulate their emotions, leading to frequent mood swings, intense emotional reactions, or prolonged periods of sadness or anxiety.
  • Difficulty Concentrating: Persistent difficulties focusing, staying organised, or completing tasks may signal attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or other related conditions.
  • Social Withdrawal: Avoidance of social interactions, reluctance to participate in activities, or difficulty making friends may suggest social anxiety, depression, or other emotional challenges.
  • Physical Symptoms: Physical complaints such as frequent headaches, stomach aches, or unexplained aches and pains may have underlying psychological causes, primarily when no medical explanation is found.
  • Changes in Academic Performance: Declines in academic performance, changes in school attendance, or reluctance to engage in learning activities could indicate mental health issues affecting concentration, motivation, or self-esteem.
  • Plans of Self Harm: Expressing intentions to harm oneself or engaging in planning suicidal actions.
  • Extreme fear with physical manifestations: Experiencing sudden and unexplained bouts of overwhelming anxiety, often accompanied by rapid heart rate or hyperventilation.
  • Displaying intense aggression: Engaging in multiple physical altercations, wielding weapons, or displaying a strong desire to harm others.
  • Risky Behaviours: Demonstrating severe and uncontrollable behaviours posing risks to themselves or others.
  • Eating Disorders: Exhibiting disordered eating patterns such as refusal to eat, inducing vomiting, or misuse of laxatives to achieve weight loss.
  • Signs of Addiction: Engaging in recurrent substance abuse or alcohol consumption.
  • Inconsistent behaviour: Undergoing drastic shifts in behaviour or personality without apparent cause.

Read next: Break the Silence: A Journey Through Bullying and PTSD

Seeking Support and Intervention

When caregivers, parents, guardians, or teachers observe concerning signs in a child’s behaviour or emotional well-being, it is crucial to take proactive steps:

  • Open Communication: Create a supportive environment where children feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings. Encourage open communication and actively listen to their concerns without judgment.
  • Consultation with Professionals: If signs persist or interfere with the child’s daily functioning, seek guidance from mental health professionals, paediatricians, or school counsellors. They can conduct assessments, provide appropriate interventions, and offer advice on further steps.
  • Collaborative Approach: Collaboration between caregivers, parents, educators, and mental health professionals is essential in supporting the child’s holistic well-being. They can develop individualised strategies and interventions tailored to the child’s needs.
  • Promotion of Self-Care: Encourage self-care practices for children and caregivers to manage stress and maintain mental wellness. This may include regular physical activity, adequate sleep, healthy nutrition, and engaging in enjoyable activities.

Two-Pronged Intervention – The Take Home

Intervention operates on two fronts. Firstly, seeking professional guidance for an assessment at the earliest signs of concern is wise. This sets the stage for effective management and finding the most suitable educational path for the child.

Secondly, as a parent, you’ll benefit from guidance that will equip you with essential knowledge, dos and don’ts, and strategies for handling potential challenges. Additionally, therapy might be necessary for you to navigate your emotions without guilt. 

Unconditional love and acceptance form the bedrock of nurturing any child and fostering their growth. It’s crucial to remember that self-care for parents is just as vital in this journey.

Making the Home Environment a Safe and Nurturing Space

  • The home environment and its dynamics play a significant role in shaping a child’s emotional well-being. For a child who may be neurodiverse, such as those with sensory sensitivities, factors like loud noises from arguments or shouting can exacerbate their stress and anxiety levels.
  • Learning effective communication strategies that are loving and supportive becomes imperative for every family member. Anxious children, in particular, can feel overwhelmed and terrified by heated conflicts witnessed in their presence. 
  • It’s crucial for parents to prioritise their child’s emotional well-being and be attuned to their triggers. While parents themselves may be grappling with daily life stresses, which can strain the marital relationship, without open communication and professional guidance, these stressors can lead to marital discord, leaving the child feeling insecure and unstable. 
  • Children should never be drawn into parental conflicts or made to feel responsible for their parents’ disagreements. Instead, parents must prioritise the child’s best interests, present a united front, and maintain respectful communication.
  • Consistency and routine provide vital stability for a child, and parents must fulfil their promises and avoid behaviours that could lead to feelings of rejection or low self-worth. Whether or not a child has a mental health disorder, such actions can have long-lasting detrimental effects on their emotional well-being, potentially leading to academic struggles, behavioural issues, and involvement in negative peer groups.
  • Always keep the communication channels open with your child so that they know you are there for them as their safe space to fall without judgement and the need for them to hold back from sharing.
  • Ultimately, the upbringing of a child, whether they have mental health conditions or not, hinges on providing love, security, and consistent support while avoiding exposing them to unnecessary stress, tension, or hatred within the family environment.

Caregivers, parents, guardians, and educators play a pivotal role in promoting the well-being and resilience of the younger generation by recognising the early signs of mental health issues in children and taking proactive steps to address them. Through supportive interventions and a nurturing environment, children can thrive emotionally, socially, and academically, laying the foundation for a brighter future. 


Subscribe to our newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and articles, competition announcements, and webinar dates.

Subscription successful.

Share this article
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on reddit
Share on linkedin

More on Children's Health