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Recognizing the Signs of Mental Health Issues in Children

By Randi Owsley LMSW, Licensed Psychotherapist

Mental health is an essential aspect of a child's overall well-being, playing a significant role in their emotional development, ability to learn, and capacity to form healthy relationships. As parents, caregivers, and educators, it's crucial to be aware of the signs of mental health issues in children and take appropriate action when needed. In this article, we will discuss the common signs of mental health issues in children, the importance of early intervention, and how to seek help when needed.

The Prevalence of Mental Health Issues in Children

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 16.5% of children aged 6-17 in the United States have experienced a mental health disorder in the past year. Mental health issues can affect children of all ages, and early intervention is crucial to ensure they receive the appropriate support and treatment.

Common Signs of Mental Health Issues in Children

While every child is unique and may exhibit different symptoms, some common signs of mental health issues in children include:

  1. Changes in Mood: Persistent feelings of sadness, irritability, or mood swings that last for more than two weeks may indicate a mental health issue.
  2. Changes in Behavior: Sudden changes in behavior, such as increased aggression, defiance, or withdrawal from activities and relationships, can be a sign of an underlying mental health concern.
  3. Difficulty Concentrating: Trouble focusing, completing tasks, or following instructions may be a sign of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or other mental health issues.
  4. Persistent Feelings of Worry or Fear: Excessive worry or fear that interferes with daily activities and relationships may indicate an anxiety disorder.
  5. Physical Complaints: Frequent complaints of headaches, stomachaches, or other physical symptoms without a clear cause can be a sign of stress or emotional distress.
  6. Changes in Appetite or Sleep: Significant changes in appetite or sleep patterns, such as eating too much or too little, or having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, may be indicative of a mental health issue.
  7. Social Withdrawal: A sudden or gradual withdrawal from friends, family, or social activities may be a sign of depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.
  8. Decline in Academic Performance: A noticeable decline in academic performance or increased difficulty with schoolwork may indicate a mental health concern.
  9. Self-Harm or Suicidal Thoughts: Engaging in self-harm or expressing thoughts of suicide is a serious sign of mental health distress and requires immediate attention.

It's important to note that these signs may not always indicate a mental health issue, as they can also be a normal part of childhood development or a response to stress or trauma. However, if you notice any of these signs persisting or worsening, it's essential to seek professional help.

The Importance of Early Intervention

Early intervention is crucial in addressing mental health issues in children, as it can help prevent the development of more severe problems and improve long-term outcomes. By recognizing the signs of mental health issues early on, parents and caregivers can take appropriate action to ensure their child receives the support and treatment they need.

Seeking Help for Your Child's Mental Health

If you suspect your child may be experiencing a mental health issue, the first step is to talk to your child's pediatrician or primary care provider. They can help rule out any physical causes for the symptoms and provide guidance on the next steps. In some cases, they may refer your child to a mental health professional, such as a licensed psychotherapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist, for further evaluation and treatment.

When seeking help for your child's mental health, it's essential to be open and honest with the professionals involved, providing as much information as possible about your child's symptoms, behaviors, and experiences. This will help them make an accurate diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan tailored to your child's needs.

Supporting Your Child's Mental Health

In addition to seeking professional help, there are several ways you can support your child's mental health at home:

  1. Create a Safe and Nurturing Environment: Provide a stable, loving, and supportive environment where your child feels comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings.
  2. Encourage Open Communication: Foster open communication by actively listening to your child's concerns, validating their emotions, and encouraging them to share their feelings.
  3. Teach Coping Skills: Help your child develop healthy coping strategies, such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness practices, or engaging in creative outlets, to manage stress and navigate difficult situations.
  4. Stay Involved in Your Child's Life: Maintain a strong connection with your child by participating in activities together, attending school events, and staying informed about their academic progress and social relationships.
  5. Model Healthy Behaviors: Demonstrate healthy behaviors and attitudes, such as practicing self-care, maintaining a balanced diet, and engaging in regular physical activity, to provide your child with a positive example of mental well-being.

By recognizing the signs of mental health issues in children and taking appropriate action, parents and caregivers can help ensure their child receives the support and treatment they need to thrive. Remember, early intervention is crucial, and it's never too early to prioritize your child's mental well-being.

About the Author

Randi Owsley

Randi Owsley, LMSW is a Licensed Master of Social Worker and clinical psychotherapist and co-host of the podcast Unapologetically Randi and Jess. She has her Masters of Clinical Social Work from the University of Southern California. She specializes in Women's Mental Health Issues, Trauma, Grief and Personality Disorders. You can find more information about her at and

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How To Recognize Mental Health Issues in Children