Hello all! It’s looking to be an exciting month for royal watchers and for those interested in raising awareness for the stigma associated with mental illness in children. As mentioned elsewhere on this website, the Duchess of Cambridge will reportedly be releasing a video appeal in support of Children’s Mental Health Week, which runs from February 7th-14th and will also be guest-editing the Huffington Post UK on February 17th to launch #YoungMindsMatter.
To demonstrate support for these initiatives, and to help raise awareness about chilldren’s mental health issues, I thought I would spend some time this month exploring what health professionals mean when we talk about “children’s mental health.” Broadly, this term refers to the psychological (emotional and behavioral) well-being of a child. When there is a concern in the psychological functioning of a child, and this concern causes significant distress and/or significant impairment in school or in social relationships, then this concern may rise to the level of a mental illness.
Mental illnesses ought to be properly diagnosed by a trained clinician, and any accurate diagnosis requires taking a good clinical history from the child and parents (even teachers), prior medical records, and should require psychological testing to corroborate any diagnosis. It is important to note that there are many different kinds of mental illness with which children can be diagnosed, and some children suffer from more than one kind of mental illness at the same time.
A major category of children’s mental health is the so-called neurodevelopmental disorders, including intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, learning disorders, and motor disorders. Children with these disorders should receive referrals for wrap-around services to help them with their struggles. There are wonderful providers of occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy. Many of these children also qualify for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and are entitled to special education benefits at school. Parents and families often need help to advocate for their children and for themselves in these situations, but help is available.
Another major category of children’s mental health is the mood disorders: anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even early bipolar disorder is possible in children. These children should receive referrals for individual, group and (most likely) family therapy. Many of these families many need assistance in other areas, so an evaluation of the family’s needs is important as well. Ensuring that these children aren’t isolated, bullied, or victimized for their mental anguish is paramount, as is building a strong support system.
The strongest message any child with a mental health concern can receive is that they are not alone. Help is available, and that help is honest, non-judgmental, and caring. I hope to see a message of compassion and help over the next few weeks for these children that so desperately need and deserve it.