The Warning Signs of Childhood Mental Illness

A skill we must all learn is how to recognise the signs of mental illness in children. Children are labelled as being “naughty” and “bad” without it being given a second thought, but if you scratch the surface, more often than not they are unwell and left undiagnosed and unaided. Between the ages of 5 and 16, 1 in 10 children suffer from a diagnosable health disorder, which is the astounding equivalent of 3 children within every classroom!

When you’re co-parenting, it can be more difficult to spot the signs of mental illness, largely because of the fact you spend a little less time with your child. However, whether you spend a little or a lot of time with your child the signs remain the same. It’s more important than ever to begin to recognise what these signs are and learn to differentiate them from misbehaviour.

Behaviour Changes:

Children are always going to try and push the boundaries and act out from time to time, that’s part of the learning process and growing up. But if a child continuously acts out at home or in the classroom, displaying signs of distressed or aggressive behaviour, then this is a big red flag. It’s easier to recognise the signs if you spend a lot of time with a child, whereas if you’re either a parent who has joint custody, a child minder or a family friend, it can be trickier to differentiate between the warning signs and bad behaviour. If you recognise any mood swings, behaviour changes, tantrums or overwhelmed feelings, then don’t hesitate to act. Talk to the child’s teachers, co-parent, family members and anybody else who could give you an insight into what is happening. When you identify these symptoms, it’s important to be understanding and patient, shouting or reprimanding the child can result in them feeling misunderstood, isolated and more frustrated than ever.

Physical Harm:

A more drastic indicator of a child having a mental illness is physical abuse. This is more commonly associated with older children, who turn to cutting and burning themselves, disfiguring their bodies and causing physical harm in any way, as an outlet or escape. Although this is commonly associated with older children, younger children may also turn to physical harm, by either digging their nails deep into their skin, banging their head against the wall or holding their breath. These symptoms are often subtle and remain hidden, if you have any reason to believe that your child, or somebody else’s child is self-harming, it’s import to make sure that you speak to them and reassure them that they are safe and understood. Self-harming can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions, so it’s important to seek professional advice and also suggest counselling as a way for the child to talk through their feelings and actions.

Don’t Hesitate:

It’s easier to recognise these signs when the child is your own, regardless of how much time you spend with them, you know how they think, act and behave and you know when something isn’t right. It’s more difficult to recognise these signs when the child is not your own, or if you spend little to no time with them. Regardless of this, the signs are unchanging, and if you have reason to believe that a child is unwell, it’s your responsibility to take action, either consult their parents, co-parent and moving forward a specialist. So many children are left undiagnosed, now is the time to recognise the signs and take action.

This infographic was created by Lorimer Fostering to raise awareness for children’s mental health.

Thank you to Rebecca Harper, Freelance Writer for today's article! You can find Rebecca @BeccHarps

Mental illness is a serious, yet treatable condition. See a professional if you believe you're dealing with depression or anxiety. If you're simply finding it hard to cope with the emotions that come with divorce, the Emotional Freedom workbook could be what you need.