children's mental illness: how do you know the signs?

children's mental illness: how do you know the signs?

One in five children will experience mental illness – that’s 80,000 children in Bexar County alone – but you wouldn’t know it to look at them. Mental illness isn’t something you can see like a broken arm or the measles, and its invisibility can make it difficult to notice, understand and identify. Mental illness is also an all-encompassing term for a variety of conditions with symptoms that can vary from person to person.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness defines mental illness in an easily understood way: A mental illness is a condition that affects a person's thinking, feeling or mood. Such conditions may affect someone's ability to relate to others and function each day. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis. Many of us will experience mental concerns on occasion, but that concern becomes an illness when the symptoms are pervasive and affect your ability to navigate life in your usual way.

Symptoms of Mental Illness

The signs and symptoms of a mental illness vary depending upon the specific disorder, the individual experiencing it, and the circumstances in which they live, work and play. However, there are symptoms and behaviors that can indicate that there may be something deeper. It is especially important to recognize signs and symptoms in children, so that they can get the treatment they need as early as possible. The Mayo Clinic provides a thorough list of signs and symptoms that could indicate a mental illness:

  • Feeling sad or down
  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
  • Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping
  • Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
  • Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Major changes in eating habits
  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence
  • Suicidal thinking

A mental illness can also have physical systems such as headaches, stomach pain, etc. If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms – or a combination of them – and they are pervasive, you should schedule an appointment with a physician or mental health care provider. To learn more about the type of mental health providers available, click here. To find mental health and other resources in Bexar County, click here.

There’s no doubt that experiencing a mental illness can make you miserable, but the misery doesn’t have to be never-ending. Help is available Take the first step toward improved mental health by talking to a friend, family member, physician or counselor.

For hope and healing,

Mike Hannan

As the director of communications for Clarity Child Guidance Center, Mike shares the insights  of children’s mental health experts, both inside and outside of Clarity CGC, who work with families looking for answers about their children’s mental health.

If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 9-1-1. If you need help locating mental health resources in your area, visit the Bexar County Community Resource website, call your local health department or the National Alliance Mental Illness's helpline at 800-950- NAMI (6264).