Spotting early signs of mental health problems in children and what to do.


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World Mental Health Day 2023 marks the universal right to mental health and emphasizes the importance of recognizing the early signs of mental health problems in order to provide timely help.

Mental health is a fundamental aspect of overall well-being, which includes how individuals think, manage their emotions, and behave in different situations.  (Photo courtesy of Freepik)
Mental health is a fundamental aspect of overall well-being, which includes how individuals think, manage their emotions, and behave in different situations. (Photo courtesy of Freepik)

World Mental Health Day is observed on 10 October each year with the primary objective of raising awareness of mental health issues, reducing associated stigma, and encouraging open discussion about mental health challenges. To encourage and highlight the importance of getting help when needed.

The theme of World Mental Health Day 2023, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is “Mental health is a universal human right”. This theme emphasizes the importance of promoting and protecting everyone’s mental health as a basic human right.

An important aspect of mental health that deserves attention is understanding and addressing mental health problems in children. Children may experience a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), pediatric bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), dissociation Anxiety disorder (SAD), post-traumatic. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and autism spectrum disorder. Recognizing the early signs of these problems in children is vital to their overall health.

  1. Changes in behavior: One of the early indicators of mental health problems in children is significant changes in their behavior. These changes may include sudden aggression, withdrawal from social interactions, or persistent irritability. Parents and caregivers should pay close attention to these changes because they may indicate underlying emotional distress.

  2. Difficulty concentrating: Decreased academic performance or inability to focus on tasks can be a sign of mental health concerns in children. While it’s normal for children to occasionally struggle with concentration, a consistent pattern may suggest problems like anxiety or attention deficit disorder.

  3. Emotional disturbances: Unexplained mood swings, excessive fear, or intense feelings of sadness for no apparent reason can indicate underlying mental health problems. Children may not always express their feelings verbally, so adults should observe these emotional fluctuations.

  4. Uncontrollable Behavior: Children exhibiting uncontrollable behavior that harms themselves or others requires immediate attention. This behavior may include aggression, destructiveness, or uncontrolled anger.

  5. Physical symptoms: Mental health problems can manifest in physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, or frequent illnesses. Although these symptoms can have a variety of causes, especially in children, a consistent pattern with emotional changes should raise concern.

  1. regression: Returning to typical childhood behaviors, such as bedwetting or thumb-sucking, may indicate emotional distress. Regression often serves as a coping mechanism when a child feels overwhelmed or anxious.

  2. Changes in sleep patterns and appetite: A drastic change in sleeping or eating patterns indicates mental health problems. Insomnia, nightmares, or a sudden loss of appetite can indicate stress, anxiety, or depression in children.

  3. Thoughts of self-harm or suicide: Alarmingly, some children may self-harm or express thoughts of self-harm or suicide. These are clear cries for help and should never be ignored.

Seek professional help

It is important to recognize these early signs, but it is important to note that just one or two symptoms do not confirm the presence of mental health problems. However, it is very important to seek professional help immediately when you observe these symptoms. Professional help can give children the support they need to navigate their challenges. Early intervention significantly improves a child’s prognosis and overall health.

Additionally, creating an open and non-judgmental environment for children to discuss their feelings and concerns is critical to effectively addressing mental health issues. Encouraging communication and showing understanding can help children feel supported and heard.

As such, World Mental Health Day 2023 emphasizes the universal right to mental health and highlights the importance of early identification and support for children facing mental health challenges. By recognizing the early signs and seeking professional help when needed, we can promote children’s mental health and ensure they have the best chance for a healthy and fulfilling future.

First Published: 10 Oct 2023, 09:45 IST

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