Causes of mental health problems
- Family history (genes)
- School or learning problems.
- Problems with friends.
- Emotional, physical and sexual abuse or chronic neglect.
- Death or loss of someone very close.
- Serious illness or physical injuries.
- Family break up, separation and divorce.
What parents should look out for
Generally a problem shows when children or young people have ongoing distress or when they have difficulties with coping, getting on with others, or keeping an interest in what they are doing.
Signs in toddlers and pre-school children:
- not playing
- not starting to talk, or stopping talking after he or she has learned to talk
- harming themselves
- going backwards in their learning, eg toilet training
- not growing and putting on weight
- being over friendly with everyone, treating strangers the same as family
- not relating to others, acting as if people were not there
- not seeming to be attached to parents
- doing the same play or activity over and over again.
Signs in primary school age children
- constant crying and clinginess
- excessive anxiety about being left alone
- ongoing sleep problems
- hyperactivity; constant movement beyond regular playing
- persistent nightmares
- marked fall in school performance
- unexplained laughing or crying
- soiling or wetting pants
- ongoing disobedience or aggression
- being so afraid that she cannot do usual activities
- daydreaming so much that it interferes with usual activities
- frequent temper tantrums
- cruelty to pets
- lighting fires.
Signs in older primary school age children and adolescents
- unhappiness, depression and being irritable, poor appetite, sleeping difficulties and thinking about death
- becoming a loner
- marked change in school performance
- abuse of alcohol and/or drugs
- changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
- avoiding school, stealing, vandalism
- great fear of becoming obese when there are no physical signs of being overweight
- exercising much more than seems reasonable, especially if goes on exercising when injured
- constant worrying
- hearing or seeing things that are not there
- frequent outbursts of anger.
If your child has any of the above signs, or if you are worried about other behaviours or feelings, it is important to get advice from someone who works with children and young people. As a first step talk to your local doctor, or your local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. Early help can often prevent more serious problems later on.
What parents can do
- Stay in touch with your child. Be aware of and attend to any changes in your child’s feelings or behavior.
- Some time each day with your child is important.
- Take an active interest in what your child enjoys and what he is doing at school.
- Encourage your child to talk about what is happening in his life.
- Model appropriate behavior in your own relationship with others.
- Spend time with your child in family activities both with fun time as well as chores.
- Try not to involve your child in adult problems.
- Don’t compare your child with others.
- Notice the things that your child is good at and tell him.
- Encourage children’s friendships.
- Let your child know that you love him in as many ways as you can - make sure he feels loved and lovable.
- Your child’s emotional health is as important as his physical health.