Mental health is the overall wellness of how you think, regulate your feelings and behave. A mental illness, or mental health disorder, is defined as patterns or changes in thinking, feeling or behaving that cause distress or disrupt a person’s ability to function. Mental disorders among children are described as serious changes in the way children typically learn, behave, or handle their emotions, which cause distress and problems getting through the day. Children with mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders can have other health or developmental conditions at the same time. Sometimes the difficulties from having a chronic health condition—those that go on for a long time and often don’t go away completely—or disability increase the risk for developing mental health problems. Sometimes having more than one condition can make mental health symptoms worse. Careful diagnosis to guide treatment is important.
Mental health disorders in children — or developmental disorders that are addressed by mental health professionals — may include the following:
Anxiety disorders in children are persistent fears, worries or anxiety that disrupt their ability to participate in play, school or typical age-appropriate social situations. Diagnoses include social anxiety, generalized anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
When children act out persistently so that it causes serious problems at home, in school, or with peers, they may be diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). ODD usually starts before 8 years of age, but no later than by about 12 years of age. Children with ODD are more likely to act oppositional or defiant around people they know well, such as family members, a regular care provider, or a teacher.
Compared with most children of the same age, children with ADHD have difficulty with attention, impulsive behaviours, hyperactivity or some combination of these problems.
Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological condition that appears in early childhood — usually before age 3. Although the severity of ASD varies, a child with this disorder has difficulty communicating and interacting with others.
causes people to have “tics”. Tics are sudden twitches, movements, or sounds that people do repeatedly. People who have tics cannot stop their body from doing these things.
Eating disorders are defined as a preoccupation with an ideal body type, disordered thinking about weight and weight loss, and unsafe eating and dieting habits. Eating disorders — such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder — can result in emotional and social dysfunction and life-threatening physical complications.
Children sometimes argue, are aggressive, or act angry or defiant around adults. A behavior disorder may be diagnosed when these disruptive behaviors are uncommon for the child’s age at the time, persist over time, or are severe.
Many children occasionally have thoughts that bother them, and they might feel like they have to do something about those thoughts, even if their actions don’t actually make sense. For example, they might worry about having bad luck if they don’t wear a favourite piece of clothing.
Depression is persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest that disrupt a child’s ability to function in school and interact with others. Bipolar disorder results in extreme mood swings between depression and extreme emotional or behavioural highs that may be unguarded, risky or unsafe.
PTSD is prolonged emotional distress, anxiety, distressing memories, nightmares and disruptive behaviours in response to violence, abuse, injury or other traumatic events.
Schizophrenia is a disorder in perceptions and thoughts that cause a person to lose touch with reality (psychosis). Most often appearing in the late teens through the 20s, schizophrenia results in hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking and behaviours.
For individuals who may be wondering how to manage the symptoms of a childhood mental illness using treatment without prescribed medications, psychotherapies are often used. While interventions like limiting exposure to food additives, preservatives, and processed sugars have been found to be helpful for some people with an illness, the research evidence is still considered to be too limited for many physicians to recommend nutritional interventions. Also, placing such restrictions on the eating habits of a child or teenager can prove to be difficult and contentious at best, nearly impossible at worst.