I am a father to three adult boys. They had their share of illnesses while growing up. The usual flu’s, infections and broken bones, while causing the usual parental frustration and concern, were typically easily identifiable, treatable and over quickly. Unfortunately there is a type of illness that is not easy identifiable. In fact many parents don’t even think to consider it and sadly some doctors don’t as well and that is mental illness.
Historically “weird behavior” in children would always be chalked up to personality or “attitude.” It is only recently that the medical profession has prepared parents to look for signs of particular mental conditions. It is hard to think of a seven-year-old as suffering from anxiety but they do.
Even today many parents don’t think to consider mental illness when their child has a problem. Backing up a touch I would even go so far as to say that many people don’t “buy into” mental illness at all let alone childhood mental illness.
There are too many childhood mental illnesses to examine in one article. They include but aren’t limited to faulty structure of the brain, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder. The most common are major depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders.
Depression may be chemical or it may be situational. If it is chemical it doesn’t matter how good things are around the child, they won’t be happy. If it is situational it can change rapidly.
When I was 16, I had two pairs of slacks to wear to school. They were both black. The other kids thought they were the same pair of pants. Of course the harder I argued the more they dug their heels in. I became very depressed and didn’t want to go to school. I had a grandmother out of state that stepped in and bought me some clothes. I expected to become a “social star.” I didn’t become popular. They just left me alone. Since I was depressed over being teased, after I had the clothes I felt better.
Depression is a sadness that won’t go away and gets in the way of day-to-day functioning. There is a tendency to stay in bed and often a sad countenance.
A year later when I was a senior in high school I developed manic depression which is chemical. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. Bipolar disorder is also called manic depression. It is an illness where a person is extremely happy one day and then plummets down to depression the next. It continues like that creating a vicious cycle.
The third most popular mental illness is anxiety. It is that feeling that is constant the there is doom approaching. It can either be real or imagined; the results are the same. Your life is miserable. It becomes impossible for a young child or even an older one to function.
How many children are affected by these conditions?
It is thought that 20 percent of kids have depression. One percent of children have manic depression and around 18 percent of children have anxiety.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of depression are sadness, lethargy and quietness. The child is sometimes uncommunicative which children often are anyway. That makes it even more difficult to ascertain what is wrong.
The symptoms of manic depression, also called bipolar disorder, include among other things dramatic mood swings and sometimes bizarre activity.
A child may have anxiety when they refuse to participate in activities that you would think kids that age would look forward to or don’t want to participate in normal routines such as going to school.
The key thing to watch for in all of these conditions is that it isn’t temporary but remains chronic.
What treatments are available?
It is important to understand before we talk about treatment that because of the “different thinking” and lack of comfortable communication that exists with teens that suicide is increasing. It is perhaps the main reason that as parents we have to identify these conditions.
When you have established that the symptoms are chronic then the first thing to do is to contact the doctor. They will then determine if medication is required and/or counseling. These are the treatments available and they are effective.
This paragraph is the most important of the article. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Your child will not want to go to the doctor for treatment when you tell them why you are going. The older they are the harder it is. I had to get one of my boys to the doctor because he was depressed. It was the hardest thing I ever did because he felt that I thought he was “nuts.” However, I had to hold my ground. You must remember that if you don’t get your child to a doctor, they won’t get to one.
I needlessly lived with bipolar disorder symptoms and sad results for years until I was diagnosed and effectively treated. While these mental conditions can be a problem, the good thing is that they can be controlled.
Our job as parents is to make sure that behavior that is a little different is measured and monitored so that if our child has a problem we can get them the help they need.