Mental health is a serious topic in our society, and a growing focus on prevention is developing. However, what does not seem to get as much attention is children’s mental health. It is imperative that mental illnesses are recognized and treated as soon as possible, so it makes sense that the focus should be on children. Warning signs of potential mental health issues in children are often overlooked as typical disruptive behaviors that emerge in the various phases and stages of childhood. Problems as seemingly normal as a change in appetite, sleep, or school performance can actually signify a developing mental illness.
The American Psychiatric Association states that “as many as one in ten children between ages six and twelve experience persistent feelings of sadness–the hallmark of depression.” Ten percent may not be a number significant enough to warrant a larger focus, but when you consider other facts, it is startling. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that “half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14.” Children experience overwhelming stress from various life events and experiences, and that stress can lead straight to a mental health illness. HealthDay reported that “more than 14 million children and teens in the United States have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder” and hospitalizations have increased 80 percent between 1997 and 2010. If the cost to children’s health was not bad enough, the treatment cost for depression in children alone is approximately $1.3 billion a year, according to HealthDay.
Early diagnoses and treatment are imperative for the well-being of children with mental health conditions. Treatment typically includes a combination of individual therapy and family therapy. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry states that cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy are two forms of individual therapy with proven effectiveness for depression treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be used for a variety of mental health conditions, and helps a patient learn to make behavioral and thinking changes for a healthier lifestyle. Interpersonal psychotherapy helps a patient gain control of their mood and improves interpersonal interaction.
Medication is also available for children experiencing mental health conditions, however, parents are very wary to pursue that treatment method for their child. Psychotropic medications affect the chemicals in the brain that relate to behavior and mood, and research is insufficient in showing how these medications affect children under six years of age. The benefit of psychotropic medications for a child with a mental health disorder requires close monitoring, and careful consideration of the risks and benefits.
Fortunately, parents can take a number of steps at home to help prevent or assist in treating mental illness in their child. Physical health is an important aspect of overall health that should be addressed in the home. Parents can improve the physical health of their child by providing them with nutritious food, sufficient shelter, regular health checkups and immunizations, as well as adequate sleep and exercise. Providing these things is not only beneficial for the child’s physical health, but also their mental health, as their mental state will be much healthier by simply having provided these essential things. Basics for improving mental health are love, encouragement, safety, guidance, and interaction. As simple as these things may seem, many children are deprived of them. Providing this positive environment for children can greatly improve their sense of self and life, which provides a guard against developing mental illness.
Children’s mental health has a long road ahead for research and improvement, but has made huge strides in recent years. Awareness and research must continue in order to drive focus on this issue and search for effective solutions that will hopefully improve children’s mental health for the future.