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Mental Illness in Children

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What Are the Symptoms of Mental Illness in Children?

Symptoms in children vary depending on the type of mental illness, but some of the general symptoms include:

  • Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Excessive complaints of physical ailments
  • Defying authority, skipping school, stealing, or damaging property
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Long-lasting negative moods, often accompanied by poor appetite and thoughts of death
  • Frequent outbursts of anger
  • Changes in school performance, such as getting poor grades despite good efforts
  • Loss of interest in friends and activities they usually enjoy
  • Significant increase in time spent alone
  • Excessive worrying or anxiety
  • Hyperactivity
  • Persistent nightmares or night terrors
  • Persistent disobedience or aggressive behavior
  • Hearing voices or seeing things that are not there (hallucinations)

What Causes Mental Disorders in Children?

The exact cause of most mental disorders is not known, but research suggests that a combination of factors, including heredity, biology, psychological trauma, and environmental stress, might be involved.

  • Heredity (genetics): Many mental disorders run in families, suggesting that the disorders, or more accurately, a vulnerability to the disorders, might be passed on from parents to children through genes.
  • Biology: As in adults, many mental disorders in children have been linked to abnormal functioning of particular brain regions that control emotion, thinking, perception, and behavior. Head traumas also can sometimes lead to changes in mood and personality.
  • Psychological trauma: Some mental disorders might be triggered by psychological trauma, such as severe emotional, physical, or sexual abuse; an important early loss, such as the loss of a parent; and neglect.
  • Environmental stress: Stressful or traumatic events can trigger a disorder in a person with a vulnerability to a mental disorder.

 

How Is Mental Illness in Children Diagnosed?

As with adults, mental disorders in children are diagnosed based on signs and symptoms; however, diagnosing mental illness in children can be especially difficult. Many behaviors that are seen as symptoms of mental disorders, such as shyness, anxiety (nervousness), strange eating habits, and outbursts of temper, can occur as a normal part of a child's development. Behaviors become symptoms when they occur very often, last a long time, occur at an unusual age, or cause significant disruption to the child's and/or family's life.

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