How to Spot the Signs of Mental Illness in Children

Do you know how to stop the signs of mental illness in your child? While we hope our kids never have to deal with that, it’s important to be aware.

Do you know how to stop the signs of mental illness in your child? While we hope our kids never have to deal with that, it’s important to be aware.

There’s a popular myth that childhood is a golden, carefree time when everything is easy, but somewhere inside us, most of us know that this is not true. From school bullying to family problems to a lack of safe places to play, there are all sorts of issues that constrain children’s lives and can cause them stress. The pressure tends to increase during the teenage years, when bodies also undergo a lot of disorientating physiological changes. It’s no wonder that some kids struggle to cope and develop mental health problems. The question is, what can we do about it? The first important step is learning to spot the symptoms.


How to Spot the Signs of Mental Illness in Children 

Is mental illness in children on the increase?

In recent years, mental health professionals have begun to report an upsurge in the number of children and young people who need their help. The increase is large enough that they don’t think that it can all be attributed to a greater awareness of mental health issues. Instead, they cite factors such as the increased use of the internet, which can expose children to pressure that their parents, who are generally less tech-savvy, don’t know how to deal with. The state of the wider world is also a contributing factor, with teenagers concerned about their future prospects in a struggling economy, and with young people of all ages increasingly worried about war. In this situation, it’s particularly important to listen to your children and reassure them that you’re always ready to provide support.


Behavioral changes

Mental health struggles often come to light through behavioral changes. While you shouldn’t get too worried about your child finding a new hobby or adopting a new style of dress, you should worry if your child suddenly withdraws from social activities or loses interest in a favorite pastime. Every adolescent goes through mood swings, but phases of anger, fearfulness, or unhappiness that last for more than two weeks should be cause for concern. Your child may complain of nightmares or trouble sleeping, may start skipping school, or may drastically underperform on school tests. Periods of confusion or struggles with basic problem-solving could also indicate a problem. If you’re worried about something like this, it’s time to start a conversation.


Talking to your child

Often, troubled children don’t want to burden their parents, or they feel that their parents wouldn’t understand what they’re going through. Try not to be too anxious in your approach, as this can make the problem worse. Instead, talk matter-of-factly about your observations, and let them know that if they have a problem, there may be ways of making it better. It can be worth pointing out that adults and other young people quite often find life hard to cope with but recover after they get help. Don’t lecture, but make an effort to listen, even if the answers are not what you expected. Show plenty of affection, and reassure them that you’re going to love them no matter what.


Seeking help

If you and your child decide that extra help is needed, there are several options that you can consider. In most cases, it’s best to start with counselling, which will help to clarify the problem and establish the best way forward – in some cases, it can be enough on its own. Sometimes, cognitive behavioral therapy is available as part of this process, giving your child enhanced coping skills.

If the problem is severe, or if counselling doesn’t seem to be helping, medication is also an option. Sometimes, this can dial down the emotional pressure enough for your child to work through underlying issues and recover. Another option is sending your child to a place such as Newport Academy, where they will meet others in their age group facing similar problems and will immediately feel less isolated. In a supportive environment away from the pressures of day-to-day life, they can continue to get an education and can also receive counselling and further support as needed. A break like this can help them to overcome their problems and reconnect with the things that they really value in life.


Mental illness in young people may be more common these days, but the good news is that, partly as a consequence of this, mental health services have really woken up to young people’s needs. There’s more support now than ever before, so families no longer have to face this alone. If you can support your child through the difficult early process of acknowledging the problem, you can get the help that you need to ensure that they make the best possible recovery.


12 thoughts on “How to Spot the Signs of Mental Illness in Children”

  1. I learned so much from this post that I didn’t know. Parents need to know these things so if they do spot some of these signs, they can get their child the help they need. Excellent information!

  2. These are great signs to watch for, having been through our own journey with our child who has mental health issues.

  3. Being aware of your children’s health is the most important thing being a parent. As a mother of two, I always see to it that my children are ok emotionally, mentally and physically. Even as a very busy mom, they always are my priorities.

  4. I am not a parent but I do think parents need to be real keen of their childs behavior. Dont let something off keep slipping by and if it is getting out of control help them while they are still young or it will definitely get worse in adulthood.

  5. The numbers do seem to be rising, as we are becoming more proactive in screening. It’s important that we all get the help we need, regardless of age.

  6. It is easy to miss as a parent and some don’t want to believe it could be happening. This is a great article for people to read.

  7. Jocelyn @ Hip Mama's Place

    A lot of children are suffering from mental illness and we’re not even aware of it. I think this post helps in so many ways. I hope a lot of parents get to read this.

  8. The earlier we detect it the better, since we can help our child deal with mental illness and what needs to be done. We just have to make sure that we’re there showing our support.

  9. Myrah Falco Duque

    So very sad. This is so common these days it’s frightening. It is important to talk to our kids regularly.

  10. Thank you so much for talking about this. I think so many people shun mental illness especially when it comes to kids.

  11. Annemarie LeBlanc

    Thanks for writing this post. Raising awareness will definitely make a difference and help address the issue of childhood anxiety and depression. I will share this post with my sisters and cousins.

  12. As a former Special Education Teacher this is something we were trained to spot, many times mentally children were placed in Special Ed but didn’t belong there, they just needed treatment and mainstream classes were more often than not better for them once they received the help they needed. Important to learn the differences! Great Post!

    Tracy @ Ascending Butterfly

  13. Spotting mental illness in children is one of those things we as parents don’t really think about, unless there’s something that points to the possibility that there may be an issue. Thanks for sharing these tips!

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