Warning Signs of Children’s Mental Health Concerns

May 4th, 2020

Mental health challenges can be difficult to identify because, unlike physical ailments, the signs and symptoms can be subtle or even hidden. By understanding the 10 warning signs below, identified by our Children’s Outreach Specialist Jessica Liria, you can be better prepared to recognize behavior changes early on. Be sure to consider what is typical behavior for the individual and what is typical for their age.

  1. Sleep Changes—It is important to maintain a sleep schedule to help you know how much, or how little, your child/adolescent is sleeping. Sudden changes in their pattern, and changes that have been occurring over the last two weeks or so, can signify a behavioral concern. Also, weigh the amount of sleep with their energy level to be sure it makes sense. For example, they are getting an adequate amount of sleep, but their energy level remains low…or they are getting minimal sleep, but the energy level is high—this may indicate a concern.
  2. Eating Changes—Good nutrition and balanced meals contribute to wellness. Eating too much, or too little, can not only be impacting overall mood, it can be a sign of a mental health concern such as depression, an anxiety disorder or eating disorder.
  3. Inability to Manage Emotions—If your child/teen is exhibiting feelings of anxiety, anger, or sadness over the course of several days or weeks it needs to be addressed. Depression and anxiety disorders are the most common mental health illnesses for youth and early intervention shows the most successful outcomes. Pay attention to irritability, frequent temper tantrums, or sudden mood changes.
  4. Withdrawn and/or Isolative—When transitioning into adolescence, it is typical for a teen to be more withdrawn from family; however, being withdrawn or isolating from their friends is not. Not wanting to socialize or interact with others may indicate problems such as bullying, depression or social anxiety. Feelings of loneliness or hopelessness need to be taken seriously as they can indicate thoughts of suicide.
  5. Loss of Interest—If your child or teen becomes disinterested in the things they normally enjoy, do your best to find out why. Help them identify a new, appropriate, activity or hobby to replace the old one. When there is nothing that interests them, and they have no desire to be involved with anything, this can signify a mental health concern like depression.
  6. Decrease in Academic Performance—COVID-19 has certainly thrown a wrench in all things academic, but keep this in mind for future reference, or you may have noticed this earlier on in the academic year. A drop in grades, or a change in attitude towards school may show that they are struggling to learn due to a disorder like ADHD or dyslexia. It can also be a sign of depression or an anxiety disorder. Or, it may be related to behavior challenges like truancy or substance use.
  7. Engaging in Risky Behaviors—Speaking of truancy and substance use, these behaviors should be taken seriously. They carry a high risk and can lead to lifelong problems like criminal activity and addiction. Other examples of high-risk behavior include fighting, promiscuity, and reckless driving.
  8. Inability to Complete Daily Tasks—Many of the warning signs mentioned above can contribute to the inability to complete daily tasks. Avoiding hygiene needs and not tending to activities of daily living may reflect a deeper issue like post-traumatic stress disorder or a depressive disorder. Additionally, this warning sign can include confusion, or a lack of confidence, in tasks that were previously able to be completed.
  9. Self-harm Behaviors and/or Thoughts of Suicide—Self harm, like cutting or scratching, does not necessarily indicate the individual wants to die by suicide. It can be their method of coping or release. Either way, it is cause for concern as using healthy coping skills should be established. If anyone voices thoughts of suicide, professional help is needed right away. Call 911, or if the person agrees, bring to DLC’s Emergency Services Assessment Center to link with services.
  10. Disconnect with Reality—Paranoia, hallucinations, and/or delusions may be signs of a mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. These signs can also occur with the use of substances and can prompt a medical emergency, or even support from law enforcement.

David Lawrence Center provides mental health and substance use support and recovery services to all ages. If any of these warning signs apply to you, your child, or someone you know, our agency is available 24/7/365. Link with us virtually at DLCenters.org or complete an assessment at our main campus, 6075 Bathey Lane, Naples, FL 34116.

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