13 Signs of Potential Mental Illness in a Child

Most parents have an instantaneous desire to protect their children. We tend to our children’s needs: If an unexplained rash appears, we see the doctor. If a fever spikes, we see the doctor. If a bone seems injured, we see the doctor.

potential mental illness in a child

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Visible wounds are relatively easy to recognize. It’s different when a child begins having problems at school or with friends, or if he or she becomes uncooperative and has inexplicable outbursts. Such occurrences often leave parents feeling confused and unsure about what to do.

Nearly one in five children is affected with an emotional or behavioral disorder. You may recognize that something is not right, but what it is or what to do remains a mystery.

Warning Signs and Parent Radar

A doctor, relative, or friend may tell you it’s “a stage,” but you feel that the “stage” has lasted too long, the behavior is too disruptive, or failing grades don’t improve no matter what you or the school tries.

The following warning signs may indicate a problem needing specialized attention. The list is culled from Ann Douglas’s book, Parenting Through the Storm: Find Help, Home, and Strength When Your Child Has Psychological Problems. You are looking for indications that your child may be experiencing one or more of these symptoms, which are also atypical for his or her developmental stage and not related to a move, divorce, or other stressful event:

  1. Your child is having more difficulty at school.
  2. Your child is hitting or bullying other children.
  3. Your child is attempting to injure himself.
  4. Your child is avoiding friends and family.
  5. Your child is experiencing frequent mood swings.
  6. Your child is experiencing intense emotions such as angry outbursts or extreme fear.
  7. Your child is lacking energy or motivation.
  8. Your child is having difficulty concentrating.
  9. Your child is having difficulty sleeping, or is having a lot of nightmares.
  10. Your child has a lot of physical complaints.
  11. Your child is neglecting his or her appearance.
  12. Your child is obsessed with his or her weight, shape, or appearance.
  13. Your child is eating significantly more or less than usual.

(For a more complete list including infant warning signs and helpful forms, click here.)

This article “13 Signs of Potential Mental Illness in a Child” was originally published by Psychology Today.

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