Children may develop mental illnesses just as adults do, but the symptoms may be difficult to pick up. This results in unnecessary treatment delays in many cases.
Signs of a mental disorder often mimic the behavior of an upset child who is completely normal. This may hinder its recognition, as parents feel that the behavior is unacceptable in general but most children display such behavior at one point or another. Moreover, children are not equipped to analyze and vocalize their feelings and difficulties clearly as adults are.
Other reasons why mental illness is often diagnosed late in children include the perceived shame of the diagnosis, the fear of having to treat children with psychotropic medications (such as mood-altering or antidepressant drugs), and the difficulty of paying for the required costs of treatment.
Types of Mental Disorders in Children
Mental illnesses in children follow the same general patterns as in adults, but the symptoms and signs may vary. For instance, irritability is more often seen in depressed children rather than the sadness that is typical of depressed adults.
Anxiety disorders in children include post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social phobia, and generalized anxiety disorder, all of which produce persistent and abnormal anxiety that prevents the child from taking part in normal daily activities. These are internalizing disorders because they involve feelings and thoughts.
Worry at having to face certain situations is normal in children, and may characterize certain periods of life. For instance, small children are upset when they are separated from their parents. However, normal functioning is typically not affected unless an anxiety disorder is present. Sadness and fear do not persist for unduly long periods either in most children.
- Separation anxiety is extreme fear of being separated from the loved ones
- Phobias are intense fears about certain things or situations
- Generalized anxiety is worry about the occurrence of misfortunes in the future
- Panic attacks are sudden episodes of intense fear with physical symptoms such as a pounding heart, sweating, trembling, and difficulty in breathing
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often affects children who have been exposed to stress and who lack the resources to recover normally. This leads to long-term distress in the form of symptoms such as recurrent nightmares or flashbacks, intense fear, jitteriness, anxiety, or being unable to deal with any reminders of the event. This makes the children unable to function normally.