There’s a popular myth that childhood is a golden, carefree time when everything is easy, but somewhere inside us, most of us know that this is not true. From school bullying to family problems to a lack of safe places to play, there are all sorts of issues that constrain children’s lives and can cause them stress. The pressure tends to increase during the teenage years, when bodies also undergo a lot of disorientating physiological changes. It’s no wonder that some kids struggle to cope and develop mental health problems. The question is, what can we do about it? The first important step is learning to spot the symptoms.
Is mental illness in children on the increase?
In recent years, mental health professionals have begun to report an upsurge in the number of children and young people who need their help. The increase is large enough that they don’t think that it can all be attributed to a greater awareness of mental health issues. Instead, they cite factors such as the increased use of the internet, which can expose children to pressure that their parents, who are generally less tech-savvy, don’t know how to deal with. The state of the wider world is also a contributing factor, with teenagers concerned about their future prospects in a struggling economy, and with young people of all ages increasingly worried about war. In this situation, it’s particularly important to listen to your children and reassure them that you’re always ready to provide support.
Mental health struggles often come to light through behavioral changes. While you shouldn’t get too worried about your child finding a new hobby or adopting a new style of dress, you should worry if your child suddenly withdraws from social activities or loses interest in a favorite pastime. Every adolescent goes through mood swings, but phases of anger, fearfulness, or unhappiness that last for more than two weeks should be cause for concern. Your child may complain of nightmares or trouble sleeping, may start skipping school, or may drastically underperform on school tests. Periods of confusion or struggles with basic problem-solving could also indicate a problem. If you’re worried about something like this, it’s time to start a conversation.
Talking to your child
Often, troubled children don’t want to burden their parents, or they feel that their parents wouldn’t understand what they’re going through. Try not to be too anxious in your approach, as this can make the problem worse. Instead, talk matter-of-factly about your observations, and let them know that if they have a problem, there may be ways of making it better. It can be worth pointing out that adults and other young people quite often find life hard to cope with but recover after they get help. Don’t lecture, but make an effort to listen, even if the answers are not what you expected. Show plenty of affection, and reassure them that you’re going to love them no matter what.
If you and your child decide that extra help is needed, there are several options that you can consider. In most cases, it’s best to start with counselling, which will help to clarify the problem and establish the best way forward – in some cases, it can be enough on its own. Sometimes, cognitive behavioral therapy is available as part of this process, giving your child enhanced coping skills.
If the problem is severe, or if counselling doesn’t seem to be helping, medication is also an option. Sometimes, this can dial down the emotional pressure enough for your child to work through underlying issues and recover.
Mental illness in young people may be more common these days, but the good news is that, partly as a consequence of this, mental health services have really woken up to young people’s needs. There’s more support now than ever before, so families no longer have to face this alone. If you can support your child through the difficult early process of acknowledging the problem, you can get the help that you need to ensure that they make the best possible recovery.
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