This is an incredibly tricky subject. The short answer is “yes”, but with a fairly big but attached to it. In this article, we give you all the information you need to truly understand why mental illness in children is not so white and black and why any child psychologist should be very careful regarding such things.
What is Mental Illness?
Mental illnesses are disorders that affect your thinking, behaviour and mood. There are many different sorts of disorders out there such as Bipolar, Depression, Schizophrenia, Anxiety etc.
What exactly causes mental illness is also complex. We know that things such as genetic predisposition, physical brain injuries, traumatic experiences and so forth all have impacts. But it doesn’t have to be just one of these factors that ultimately leads to a mental illness – it can be a combination of them.
In such a rapidly advancing medical era as ours, new things are constantly being discovered. But as of today, most scientists agree that a mental illness essentially boils down to issues with neurotransmission in the brain. Whether it stems from a physical problem (injury where certain parts of the brain have been affected, tumours, etc.) or it’s on a more biochemical level where the brain isn’t producing or distributing the right hormones or other chemicals that are essential to a healthy functioning brain.
This is also the reason why many adults who are diagnosed with chronic mental illnesses need to take medication on a daily basis. Unlike the belief attached to what some refer to as “crazy pills”, it has nothing to do with “suppressing the crazy”, and it’s simply medication to replace or moderate these chemical imbalances. Just like a diabetic would need insulin and someone with an underactive thyroid will need Thyroxine.
A Child’s Brain
A child is not born with a fully developed brain (even though it works a mile a minute and shows almost twice the amount of activity at age three vs. in a fully grown adult). In fact, the brain is actually only fully developed by the age of 25!
Now, this poses challenges when it comes to diagnosing mental illnesses – especially those that require medication. If we work from the basis that mental illness is caused by problems with the brain’s functioning, then it will be absolutely ludicrous to slap a chronic medical condition label on a child and prescribe them medication for the rest of their life when their brain has not even fully developed yet.
Is it possible that there might be a temporary condition at play and they can grow out of it? Absolutely. But this needs to be monitored very closely and medication should not be the first go-to when it comes to treatment. In cases where there really are some chronic mental health issues at play, the situation will obviously have been monitored and managed for a long time and certain long-term calls will be made once the child’s brain has been fully developed.
Mental Health Issues do Not Always Equate to Mental Illnesses
Children can experience mental health issues for a variety of reasons. These can include things such as:
- The death of a grandparent
- Bullying at school
- A move to another city
- Going through the adolescent phase
- Physical abuse
Logically, any of these types of situations can have a massive impact on the thoughts, mood and behaviour of a child. But this is where going to see a child psychologist is incredibly important so we don’t jump the gun with our conclusions. If grandpa dies it is normal to be sad and a little bit more withdrawn to process the situation. It does not mean that the child now suffers from Depression.
Is it important to call in an expert such as a child psychologist to help guide us through these difficult temporary situations? Absolutely. But the distinction between a “situationship” and an illness is crucial.
Why Does Premature Diagnosis Occur?
Firstly, it’s important to note that not all medical practitioners and professionals operate in this way. But it is important to make people aware of what is happening out there so they can make the right decisions regarding their children and their well-being.
Reasons for Premature Diagnosis
- Some practitioners are looking for a “quick fix”. That’s why they immediately reach for their prescription pad. It’s a similar situation to having a headache and immediately taking a headache tablet without ever figuring out whether it was due to dehydration, underlying sinus problems, eye problems, or stress – none of which really need medication. By just treating the symptoms, one actually hasn’t really fixed anything. And whenever one plays around with medications (chemicals) it can have very serious long-term effects. Rotting teeth due to the overuse of antibiotics physically show us these damaging effects, even though some effects cannot be seen by the human eye.
- Inexperienced practitioners can also often make mistakes early in their careers that would be almost inconceivable to them in later years. It is not their intention, but mistakes do happen. That is why it’s important to seek out a qualified child psychologist with adequate experience and a couple of good recommendations underneath their belt.
- Greed has always been the driving force for many things amongst us humans, and the medical field is no different. Some practitioners simply hand out a diagnosis to ensure plenty of return visits. This can range from the child psychologist sessions to the psychiatrist they work with. In some instances, these referrals even come with a kickback.
- Money also has other influences. Sessions and medication cost money. Money that not many have at the ready. Insurance is a tricky thing and some insurances will only pay for treatments with certain codes. So, unfortunately, in an effort to help the financial situation, certain official diagnoses are made for insurance to cover the costs. This can be done in conjunction with the parents or without their knowledge.
- These are not things we like to talk about. And it’s obviously an appalling situation for those of us who have ethical practices. But people should be aware of these situations to not become victim of these unscrupulous practices.
The Most Prominent Mental Illnesses in Children
Certain mental health illnesses are more prominent in children (whether temporary or later found that it is a chronic condition). These include:
ADHD (about 9.8% of children between the ages of 3-17)
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is characterized by an individual’s lack of focus, difficulty paying attention, being hyperactive as well as impulsive.
Anxiety (about 9.4% of children between the ages of 3-17)
Anxiety disorder is not just when someone is experiencing anxiety over a test. This is when chronic worry, anxiety and fear actually interfere with their everyday life and functioning.
Other Behavioural Disorders (about 8.9% of children between the ages of 3-17)
Behavioural disorders are any destructive or disruptive behaviours that last for 6 months and more. These can be things such as ODD (Opposition Defiant Disorder) and CD (Conduct Disorder).
Depression (about 4.4% of children between the ages of 3-17)
This is when someone suffers from extended periods of having “the blues” or “feeling down”. More often than not, it seems to be for no rhyme or reason. This is what makes the disorder so hopeless to many. It’s hard to fix something when nothing appears to be broken.
Is it Time to See a Child Psychologist?
If your child’s behaviour, thoughts or mood ever noticeably changes to the extent that you feel concerned, whether you’re suspecting a mental illness or not, reaching out to a professional is a good idea. Some tell-tale signs that you should start contacting a child psychologist include:
- You perceive changes in their eating or sleeping patterns
- They are displaying destructive behaviours (to others or themselves)
- They are experiencing and expressing extreme feelings
- You are made aware of disruptive behaviour (a school will probably be the first to notify you of this kind of behaviour)
- They are isolating themselves more and more from friends and family members
- You pick up on a decrease in their self-esteem
- If a potty-trained child suddenly starts wetting the bed again
- It seems like they’re having more and more frequent tantrums
- It appears that their language skills have regressed to what we often refer to as “baby talk”
- They’ve become more clingy and there is apparent separation anxiety that is not age appropriate
- They seem to have a lot of trouble with friends. Whether it’s not being able to make any or constant fighting within the friend group.
As you can see, mental illness in children can be very tricky and you’ll need a trusted and experienced child psychologist to help you navigate the road ahead. Whilst mental illness can 100% be present in our young ones, we need to be careful not to make certain calls prematurely, especially when medication is involved. If you have any questions or are concerned about your child, then please do not hesitate to contact us via our website, by sending a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by completing the form below and we will be in contact with you shortly.