How to Recognize Mental Health Issues in Children

Focusing on children’s mental health is a relatively new concept. Our grandparents were not searching for signs of mental illness in our parents, and most of our parents were not searching for these signs in us. 

During the last two decades, the amount of research on mental illness has exploded. Science and medicine are finally recognizing that our mental health is just as important as our physical health. With these realizations came the realization that we need to monitor our children’s mental health as well.

Mental Health Issues in Children

Recognizing a mental health issue in your child could be difficult. Children change and adjust according to their surroundings. Sometimes a very simple change will throw their behavior completely out of sorts. Too little sleep or too much sleep can alter their attitude and behavior also. 

As a general rule, you should consult with your child’s doctor regarding any changes to mood or behavior. Your doctor may be able to help you determine the cause of the change or refer your child to a mental health professional for further evaluation. 

It is too easy to assume that your child will grow out of something. If months persist and your child has not grown out of or corrected a negative behavior, thought, or feeling, you should consult their pediatrician. Untreated mental health issues in children can follow them into adulthood and cause more significant problems. 

Warning Signs

There are a few different symptoms that mental health professionals believe could be a red flag. These red flags, or warning signs, may signify that there is something more to your child’s feelings and behaviors. 

  • Changes in Performance and Behavior at School
  • Feelings of Worry or Anxiety
  • Firm Refusal of Activities, including School
  • Frequent Fidgeting or Hyperactivity
  • Recurring and Frequent Nightmares
  • Displays of Aggression
  • Disobedience of Authority Figures
  • Abnormal Tantrums for Age (In Frequency or Severity)
  • Unrelenting Sadness or Depression

If your child displays one or more of the warning signs above, you should consult your doctor and obtain a referral for your child to see a mental health professional. Seeking care for your child’s mental health will only help them in the long run.

Benefits of Early Identification

Identifying a mental illness early in your child’s life will change everything. Early identification means additional time to treat the illness or disorder. It also provides parents with a better understanding of the child’s behavior. With this understanding comes information, and this information can assist you in managing difficult situations. 


The first benefit of identifying a mental health issue early on is the abundance of information you will receive. This information will allow you to better understand your child. This understanding will improve the relationship you have with your child and the experiences the two of you share. Understanding the mental health issue will equip you with techniques and methods that could assist you with future problems.


Another benefit of early identification is the effectiveness of treatment options. The earlier a mental health issue is identified, the more time your child’s mental health team has to find an effective form of treatment. In addition to finding the correct treatment option, early identification allows for early intervention. This early intervention will allow the treatment to become successful earlier in your child’s life.


Successful treatment earlier in your child’s life is prevention. It prevents issues from growing. Which, in turn, prevents potential mistakes, problems, and habits. Prevention is one of the most important benefits of early identification because the potential issue is corrected before it actually occurs. 

Common Mental Health Issues in Children

There are three mental health issues that are found to affect children more than any other mental health condition. These issues are anxiety, depression, and ADHD. The majority of children with mental health issues suffer from one of these three disorders. 


Child anxiety is characterized by intense fear, worry, or anxiousness. These feelings may cause your child to frequently express sadness or anger. But, the anger or sadness can be traced back to a fear that the child has. These feelings may overwhelm your child and cause them to feel helpless. The following are signs that your child may be struggling with an anxiety disorder.

  • Frequent Irritability or Restlessness
  • Anxiousness, Worrying, or Intense and Irrational Fear
  • Complaints of Headaches or Stomach Aches
  • Trouble Sleeping
  • A belief that Every Day will be Bad
  • Panic Attacks

If your child displays one or more of the symptoms listed above, you should contact their primary care provider. The doctor will be able to refer you to a mental health professional.


Children who suffer from depression will seem very down in the dumps. There may not be a specific cause for the feeling, but depressed children frequently experience feelings of intense sadness or melancholy. This may cause them to lose interest in activities or have a hard time paying attention. Child depression causes feelings of self-doubt and often causes children to question their self-worth. The following are signs that your child may be struggling with depression.

  • Hostility, Anger, or Irritability
  • Changes in Appetite or Sleeping Patterns
  • Angry Outburst or Crying Fits
  • Complaints of Headaches or Stomach Aches

Depression is common in children, but it is also easily treatable. If your child displays one of these four symptoms, consult with their primary care doctor. Your child’s pediatrician will be able to refer your child to a mental health professional. 


ADHD, or attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, is an extremely common mental health issue in children, especially young boys. Between 8% and 18% of boys are affected by ADHD, compared to 2% to 9% of girls. The disorder is characterized by hyperactivity and the inability to pay attention. The following are the symptoms your child may have if they struggle with ADHD.

  • Becoming Distracted Easily
  • Inability to Concentrate and Complete Tasks
  • Forgetfulness
  • Frequent Feelings of Boredom
  • Fidgeting and Hyperactivity

It is vital to recognize ADHD early on because the disorder could lead to issues both at school and at home. In addition to these issues, there is a link between ADHD and disruptive behavior disorders. Studies show that up to 40% of boys diagnosed with ADHD could have a disruptive behavior disorder. Early intervention is the key to managing these mental health issues.

Published by alswartz

I am an aspiring novelist working on my first book. I have an interest in mental health and each of my works is related to mental health in some way.

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