Children’s Mental Health
According to the Australian Mental Health group Beyond Blue, one in seven young people aged 4 to 17 years experience a mental health condition in any given year. If this isn’t concerning enough, according to a study by JAMA Psychiatry, poor mental health in children and teenagers leads to a 6 x increase in the likelihood of health, legal, financial and social problems as adults. This is why it is essential that young people get the mental health support they need – so that they can go on to become resilient, healthy adults that can cope with life’s challenges. Alarmingly though, the Mental Health Foundation suggests that 75% of children and young people who experience mental health problems don’t get the help they need.
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Common Mental Health Issues in Children
According to the CDC, the most common mental disorders that children experience are anxiety, ADHD, behavioral problems, and depression. Signs of poor mental health in children include sadness, social withdrawal, self-harm, irritability, moodiness, weight loss or gain, changes in academic performance, substance abuse, and more. These mental health symptoms can result from all sorts of social, biological, environmental, and behavioral factors. If you are concerned about the mental well-being of your child or a child in your care, it is important that you get them help as soon as possible so that they receive the support they need to flourish.
What Factors Impact Children’s Mental Health
All sorts of social, environmental, behavioral, and biological factors influence children’s mental health. Social risk factors can include family dysfunction, loss of a loved one, neglect, poor caregiver mental health, bullying, and exposure to violence or substance abuse. Environmental factors can include economic hardship, exposure to smoking or other chemicals, hazardous home conditions, poor nutrition, and more. Behavioral factors can include excessive screen time, lack of exercise, taking drugs, being isolated, and overworking. And last but not least, biological factors can include genetics, infections, exposure to toxins, brain defects or injuries, prenatal damage, and substance abuse.
How Does Poor Childhood Mental Health Impact the Future?
Exposure to traumatic experiences and mental illness in childhood can negatively impact the brain’s development when it is most vulnerable. According to the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, children with anxiety are up to 10 times more likely to have an anxiety disorder as an adult, and those with depressive symptoms are up to 28 times more likely to have depression as an adult. Similarly, children with behavioral difficulties are at high risk of having ADHD or antisocial personality disorder in adulthood. This study also suggests that prevention and early intervention are essential and that caregivers should respond to symptoms and not wait for a diagnosis.
How Can You Improve a Child’s Mental Health?
Overall health and well-being for children and adults alike require a balance of mental, physical, social, emotional, and environmental health. Here are some ideas to promote your child’s mental health and well-being:
- Be loving and affectionate towards them, and give them positive body language like eye contact, smiling, and hugging.
- Use a positive and consistent approach to discipline and behavior management – whenever possible, use positive reinforcement rather than punishment.
- Talk and listen to the child, and make sure to give them your undivided attention.
- Ensure that the child gets daily exercise, lots of outdoor playtime, eat a healthy diet and has a regular bedtime.
- Have rules, boundaries, and routines in place – these help children to feel safe and secure.
- Try your best to model your own mental and physical health and demonstrate good self-care, a positive outlook, and mature emotional processing skills.
- Encourage the child to connect with others in the community.
- Improve the child’s emotional literacy – talk about emotions with them, and encourage them to recognize and name their emotions.
- Support the child when something is bothering them, and assist them in facing situations that are making them anxious in a loving and considerate manner
- Take the child to counsel or therapy sessions.
If you are worried about your child or know a child with the risk factors or symptoms mentioned above, get them the support they need. Children with various risk factors and mental health issues can improve their well-being and develop into healthy, successful adults with the right emotional toolkit, modeling, and support.
Psychlopaedia, ‘How childhood trauma changes our mental health into adulthood, https://psychlopaedia.org/health/republished/how-childhood-trauma-changes-our-hormones-and-thus-our-mental-health-into-adulthood/
Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, ‘Children with mental health problems at increased risk of mental disorders as adults, https://www.mcri.edu.au/news-stories/children-mental-health-problems-increased-risk-mental-disorders-adults
Raising Children, ‘Good mental health for children: 3-8 years’, https://raisingchildren.net.au/school-age/health-daily-care/mental-health/children-s-mental-health
Mental Health Foundation, Children & Young People, 2021
Copeland WE, Wolke D, Shanahan L, Costello EJ. Adult Functional Outcomes of Common Childhood Psychiatric Problems: A Prospective, Longitudinal Study. JAMA Psychiatry. 2015;72(9):892–899. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.0730
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health, 2022
WebMD, ‘Causes of Mental Illness, https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-causes-mental-illness