October is mental health awareness month, a time when shine the spotlight on strategies to look after our own mental health as well as our friends, colleagues, and loved ones. But what about those people in our lives that don’t necessarily understand what is going on inside their head? Or don’t have the language to express it?
This is the reality for a lot of young children struggling with their mental health.
I know most people thing mental illness is an adult issue, but unfortunately that’s not the reality. In fact, statistics show us that, in Australia, over 8 per cent of children aged 4-11 years have a diagnosed mental health disorder, and 20 per cent of children experience mental health difficulties that impact daily living. And those numbers are rising.
One of the biggest challenges we face as parents, caregivers and health professionals is recognising the warning signs in young children and helping them express what they are feeling. It is hard enough for adults to do this, let alone a 5-year-old.
So, let’s look at some of the warning signs you should look out for in your little one that might be hinting that they are struggling with their mental health.
Isolating themselves - If suddenly the play dates stop or your child doesn’t want to do their usual sports etc, it might be sign there’s something worrying them.
Avoiding school - the headache or tummy pain every second day might be a virus, but it might also be a sign that a child is actually anxious.
Acting out /anger/clinginess - yes tantrums in children are normal, but if your child’s temperament suddenly changes -be it anger, clinginess or tearfulness, don’t ignore it.
Change in school performance or regression in ability’s - this might be language, comprehension, or physical regression.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of these signs can be very normal developmental stages and changes. BUT if they persist or if you feel like they might be more intense than you would expect, don’t just put it down to them “being a kid”, seek help.
If you are worried, here are some steps you can take:
Speak to child – they might be little, but you will be amazed at how eloquently they can express their feelings if given the opportunity. As one of my preschool aged patients put it “I feel like I have firecrackers in my head, and I can’t stop them” – I think we can all relate! But do be careful with the language you use. Make sure it’s age appropriate and non-judgemental.
Speak to the school - have they noticed any changes in behaviour, concentration or issues with friends.