Mental Illness in Children: Some Facts and Sources

An increasing number of children are experiencing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

An increasing number of children are experiencing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Depression in children, including elementary age kids, is on the rise. If you search the internet you will find many facts about mental illness in children. These facts tell a story.

* 1 in 10 children have a mental illness that keeps them from functioning in their families, in their schools, and in their communities. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

* An estimated 2.5% of American children suffer from depression.

* Depression in children is often undiagnosed and untreated because it is confused with normal childhood or teen behavior.

* Half of the lifetime causes of mental illness start by age 14. (National Institute of Mental Health study)

* Approximately 4.1% of school-age kids have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. (National Institute of Mental Health)

* Anxiety disorders often start in late childhood. (National Alliance for Mental Illness)

* An estimated 13% of kids between the ages of 9 and 17 have an anxiety disorder. (U.S. Surgeon General)

* Emergency departments in U.S. hospitals often under-diagnose mental illness in children who are being treated for self-harm. (“Archives of General Psychiatry,” October 2006)

* Only about 21% of children who have mental illness receive treatment. (“American Journal of Psychiatry,” September 2002)

* Untreated mental illness can lead to more severe mental illness and this illness is more difficult to treat. (National Institute of Mental Health)

Young children can – and do – develop mental illness, including depression. Their mental illness may show up as poor school performance, ongoing worry and anxiety, refusing to go to school, hyperactivity and fidgeting, awful nightmares, disobedience, verbal and physical aggression, temper tantrums, and general irritability. Do you think your child has a mental illness? There are things you can do to help him or her.

1. Poor nutrition can change brain chemistry, so make sure your child eats a balanced diet.

2. Observe your child’s behavior over time. You may wish to keep a diary of this behavior for at least a month.

3. Talk with your child about the problem: bullying, self-esteem, things she or he has seen, and personal feelings.

4. Encourage your child to confide in you. Listen to your child’s word choices and for descriptions of feelings. Observe your child’s body language as you listen.

5. Praise your child’s talents and strengths. Don’t overdo it, though, or your your child won’t believe you.

6. Seek professional help if you think it is needed.

Mental illness is treatable and the treatments are getting better all the time. For the sake of your family, your child, and your child’s future, get help for his or her mental illness as soon as possible. While you are doing this, remember to take care of yourself, for the mental illness of one affects all in the family.

Copyright 2006 by Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelance nonfiction writer for 28 years and is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Association for Death Education and Counseling. A five-star review of the book is posted on Amazon. You will find another review on the American Hospice Foundation website under the “School Corner” heading.