Sunday, October 24, 2010

Watching Out For Your Child's Mental health

Is there a child in your life that you love and look out for? The current November 1 issue of Time magazine has a great article summarizing recent research on children's mental health concerns, and what parents and grandparents should be aware of as warning signs of potential need for early intervention. Pediatricians often underdiagnose mental health problems, so adults close to children need to know what to look for.

Here are some of the highlights from the Time article:

*1 in 5 children have some form of emotional or behavioral disorder.

*50% of adults have a mental health issue which began before age 14.

*Early intervention can work, and a range of gentle, child and teen-friendly therapeutic techniques are available in counseling geared for them.

*It can be difficult for parents to separate normal childhood fears or mood swings from those that indicate problems that necessitate treatment.

*Therapists watch for context, for example, if a problem occurs across various situations, or only in one.

*Age of onset is a critical factor. Some disorders classically start at certain developmental points.

*Depression can start as early as age 9, but more often begins at adolecence. Symptoms include loss of appetite and energy, irritability, feelings of worthlessness, sleep problems, inability to enjoy things, and/or suicidal thoughts.

*Anxiety can strike all ages, but most common in children above age 5 through middle age. Higher anxiety is considered normal at age 8 months, 2 years, and 5 years and normally passes.

*Obsessive-compulsive disorder normally starts around age 19, but children can show symptoms earlier.

*Current thinking is that bipolar disorder can also develop in about 1% of teens 15-17 years old. Care needs to be taken to carefully differentiate ADHD from manic mood swings.

*Being a child and having parents divorce adds extra risk. Researchers found a 36% reduction in mental health conditions when children with divorcing parents get preventive therapy.

*ADHD usually hits between 3 and 6 years old, but can strike later. Vision, hearing, and learning disorders need to be ruled out. The key is the severity of the symptoms.

*Teens with anorexia nervosa respond better to treatment if the family is also invoved in treatment. In one study, 49% of anorexics maintain a healthy body weight after family-involved treatment, compared to 25% of those teens in solo treatment.

*Children and teens with depression or anxiety generally respond well to cognitive therapy. Exposure and response prevention training work well with specific fears and OCD.

In general, most mental health professionals consider it best practice to have a child or teen attempt to work through their concerns in talk therapy before considering medication. I always try to partner with parents as well to have them on the support team at home. Many studies suggest that intervening early if you suspect there is a problem can help prevent bigger problems later, and get your child or teen back into the magical time in their life you want them to enjoy. Prevention and treatment of mental health issues in young people can reduce risk and lessen the suffering. Parents and grandparents can be in the best position to know if the child you love is at risk for mental health problems, and get them to professionals who can help.

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