Frequently, parents may find it hard to know if a child is having mental health issues or if they are experiencing typical physical or emotional growing pains. With the incidence of mental illness in children at such an alarming rate, being aware of signs and symptoms is important. May 7-13 is Children’s Mental Health Awareness week, and Red River Youth Academy wants to help parents, caregivers, and families know how to recognize the signs that a child or teenager needs help.
One in seven children in the United States between the ages of two and eight have a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder (MBDD), according to a 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health. In a 2001-2004 study of adolescents age 13 to 18, approximately 49 percent had a mental disorder, with females at a slightly higher percentage.
“Parents want to believe that their children are healthy in all aspects, but if behaviors change it is important be aware of the symptoms of mental health problems,” said Amy Steely, LPC, CEO of Red River Youth Academy, a child and adolescent residential behavioral health treatment center in Norman, Okla.
Steely recommends consulting with a licensed medical or mental health professional if your child exhibits two or more of the following symptoms:
- Increasing difficulty at school, including concentrating, paying attention, or getting along with others
- Frequent mood swings
- Increasing aggression towards others, including hitting and verbal attacks
- Bullying other children or family members
- Self-harm, including cutting or unexplained bruising
- Angry outbursts that include throwing things, punching/kicking walls, destroying property
- Intense emotions such as extreme fear, worry, sadness, or anger
- Decreased energy or motivation
- Avoiding friends and family
- Withdrawing from favorite activities
- Difficulty sleeping or having frequent nightmares
- Neglecting routine hygiene and grooming
- Change in eating habits
- Becoming obsessed with body weight, shape, facial features, or other aspects of one’s appearance
- Physical complaints such as headaches and other bodily pain
Children and adolescents go through many changes as their bodies grow and mature. Some of that growth may cause emotional changes or outbursts. “During adolescence, a child’s brain goes through a lot of change, and it is at this stage in life that symptoms of many mental health disorders start appearing,” Steely said.
Knowing what is normal maturing and what are more concerning issues is sometimes hard to determine. Contacting a licensed mental health professional for an assessment is helpful. Treatment is very effective and may include therapy and/or medication to manage the illness.
Parents and guardians play an important role in the treatment process. Being a good role model and being patient and understanding are important in supporting a child’s treatment and growth. Family therapy may also be warranted, as family issues and situations impact a child’s development and behavioral health, and like any illness, mental health issues affect the whole family.
Red River Youth Academy is located in Norman and serves children and adolescents experiencing serious emotional/behavioral disorders, including those with severe anger, aggression, and defiance. The facility’s therapeutic program is designed to target specific behavioral health problems faced by youth and to teach them new life skills to enable them to succeed in society. Services include individual, group, and family therapy, medication management, and on-site school. SoonerCare and most private insurance are accepted. For more information or a free phone screening, call (405) 701-8530 or visit http://www.redriverya.com.