This month, CHoR joins organizations nationwide to raise awareness and build understanding of mental health as part of Mental Health Awareness Month, held annually in May, and National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day which is May 5, 2016.
Did you know… one in five children experiences mental illness, but only 25 percent of those children actually receive the treatment they need. When problems emerge that cannot be handled within your support group or the pediatrician’s office, seeking help from a child mental health professional is important. Below is an overview of mental health conditions that can benefit from professional help. Your pediatrician can assist with the referral to a child psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker.
Depression is an illness that can start slowly and is connected to chemicals in our brain that balance our mood and body functions. All of us experience sadness once in a while when frustrated or when something bad happens, but when that becomes the most common feeling in your child then depression must be considered.
Children may complain of anger rather than sadness when depressed. When this is accompanied by a lack of energy, a lack of taking pleasure in things they enjoyed before, or trouble sleeping or eating (too much or too little of either), and this goes on for an extended period of time, you should consider having your child evaluated. Depressed younger children may also complain of stomach and headaches when there is no physical reason for this.
Complications of untreated depression are failure in school, loss of friendships, and in the worst case scenario, suicide. Depression is treatable with cognitive behavior therapy. Antidepressant medications can also help.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
ADHD has three important features: inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior that is unusually intense and chronic in comparison to other children of the same age. These behaviors can produce major problems in school (underperformance, “playing the class clown,” being disruptive or disorganized) and at home (not following through on simple chores/expectations, easy irritability, fights with siblings and peers). If help is not obtained, the nature of these problems gradually destroys the child’s self-esteem.
Treatment for ADHD includes medications, cognitive behavior therapy, parent training and social skills training.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Any of the above mentioned problems could occur in response to a traumatic event. Trauma can have a disorganizing effect on all of us, but particularly children, who do not know how to make sense of this type of event. Recurring thoughts or memories of the event, a fast-beating heart and constant fear that the event will happen again are all characteristics of the period following the trauma. If these behaviors continue untreated, it can lead to anxiety, depression, withdrawal or even aggressive behavior.
Supportive parenting is essential. Medications may help the body adjust and the mind to calm down but a trauma-informed therapist who can help the child work through the event and their fears plays the most important part in healing.
The constant nervousness and worry associated with anxiety is the most common behavioral problem that both adults and children struggle with. Anxiety can run in families. Younger children with anxiety often have trouble separating from mom, refuse to go to school, and may have unexplained stomach or headaches. As anxious children grow older, they may have anxiety when they are around unfamiliar people and in groups or have panic attacks. They also may become excessively fearful of normal things like the weather, bugs, etc. A great deal of dysfunction results when the event or thing that they are fearful of is too frequent or commonly present in their environment and also if child refuses to go to school.
Treatment for anxiety can be in the form of behavioral therapy; anti-anxiety medications; and active work with a pediatrician to manage physical problems like nausea/vomiting, a cognitive behavioral therapist to work on becoming less sensitive to the environment and work through fears and a child psychiatrist to manage anti-anxiety medications.
by Dr. Aradhana “Bela” Sood a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at CHoR’s Virginia Treatment Center for Children.
Learn more about the new VTCC under construction on CHoR’s Brook Road Campus. VTCC provides services for children and adolescents with mental health issues ranging from depression and ADD/ADHD to anxiety, autism spectrum disorder and behavioral problems at home and school. Last year, VTCC cared for 990 children requiring inpatient care and saw more than 7,000 outpatient visits. The new facility will allow VTCC to develop new programs and services to better meet the needs of Virginia’s families.
For more on children’s mental health, visit the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry website. Their Facts for Families Guide provides up-to-date information on numerous issues that affect children, teenagers and their families and includes a list of signs which may indicate that a child and adolescent psychiatric evaluation will be useful.