5 Leading Signs Your Child May Be Experiencing Mental Illness


It may be hard to recognize when a loved one (especially your child) might be struggling with a mental health issue. Unlike physical ailments, the symptoms of mental illness are often subtle and easily overlooked, leading many children to miss out on the support and treatment they need.

While you may have doubts about whether your child is old enough to experience mental illness, it’s essential to know that experts believe that children are just as prone to having mental health conditions as adults, although their symptoms may manifest differently.

So, instead of overlooking those worrying signs your child has been exhibiting lately, or worse, not knowing the warning signs to look out for, it’s always better to be prepared so you can provide your child with the appropriate support they need at the time they need it the most.

Understanding Mental Illness

Mental illness is a condition that influences a child’s thinking, emotions, or behavior and can interfere with their ability to perform in daily life. According to the Mental Health Center, a renowned group of psychiatrists in Los Angeles, it is ideal to know that mental illness is not a form of weakness or a character flaw. Instead, it’s a legitimate health concern that requires understanding, support, and appropriate treatment.

And just like physical illnesses, mental health disorders have various causes, including genetic factors, chemical imbalances in the brain, and life experiences.

While this form of illness is often associated with adults, children can also develop mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and eating disorders. The signs of these conditions may manifest differently in kids than in adults, so parents must be aware of what to look for.

Frequent Mood Switches

Sudden and significant changes in mood can be a red flag for mental health concerns in kids. If your child experiences frequent mood swings, intense outbursts of anger or irritability, or unexplained periods of sadness or withdrawal, then something is wrong.

While some moodiness is expected during childhood and adolescence, persistent or drastic changes in mood should not be ignored. Pay attention to whether your child’s mood swings interfere with their everyday life, relationships, or ability to enjoy social activities they once loved.

If you notice a consistent pattern of mood swings that is taking more than a couple of weeks, it may be time to get professional help (if needed).

Weird Sleeping or Eating Habits

If your child is having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or if you notice a significant increase or decrease in their appetite, it’s worth exploring the potential causes with a healthcare professional.

Of course, some fluctuations in sleep and appetite are expected, especially during growth spurts or times of stress. However, consistent and dramatic changes should not be overlooked. If you notice your child’s sleeping or eating habits are impacting their health, energy levels, or overall well-being, it’s essential to address the issue immediately.

Uncontrolled Sadness

While it’s normal for kids to feel bad or have a downtime every now and then, persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness may indicate a mental health concern, such as depression. 

If your child frequently expresses feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or self-blame or seems to have lost interest in activities they once enjoyed, it’s crucial to take these signs seriously.

Other red flags include frequent crying, social withdrawal, and a preoccupation with death or self-harm. So, watch out if sadness is interfering with your child’s daily life and lasts for an extended period. If so, seeking professional help is essential to ensure they receive the support and treatment they need.

Decline in School Grades

A sudden decline in your kid’s academic grades should cause you to worry. It is strange for a child who was typically performing well in school to start struggling with assignments, exhibiting a lack of motivation, or experiencing a significant drop in grades. It may be more than just a temporary setback.

Mental health illnesses like anxiety, depression, or ADHD can make it hard for kids to concentrate, retain information, and complete tasks, leading to academic challenges.

Suppose you notice a persistent pattern of declining school performance and other emotional or behavioral changes in your child. In that case, it’s essential to collaborate with their teachers and a mental health professional to identify the root cause and develop a support plan.

Inability to Focus

Kids with mental health conditions often struggle with concentration and attention, which can impact their performance at school and in other areas of life. If you come to notice that your child frequently appears distracted, forgetful, or has trouble following instructions, it may be a sign of an underlying mental health concern, such as ADHD or anxiety.

You may also want to watch out for procrastination, disorganization, and a tendency to lose things. If these signs are persistent and pervasive over a long period, then your best course of action is to contact a professional who will evaluate your child to determine if a mental health condition is at play.

Barriers to Childhood Mental Health Treatment

Stigma, lack of proper awareness, and limited access to mental health services are all current barriers to the treatment of mental health-related conditions in kids.

Additionally, some parents still struggle to recognize the signs of mental illness in their kids and end up attributing obvious symptoms to regular developmental challenges, thereby depriving their child of the help and support they need.

So, parents, educators, and healthcare providers need to work together to break down these barriers and ensure that these kids with mental health needs are receiving the timely and practical support they need.

This may involve increasing mental health literacy, advocating for better access to care, and fostering an environment where open and honest conversations can be had about mental health within families and communities.

Wrapping Up

These signs are some of the major ways to detect if your child may be having a mental illness. However, if you detect any other strange behavior (for an extended period), contact a mental health professional immediately to evaluate your child.

About Author

LaDonna Dennis

LaDonna Dennis is the founder and creator of Mom Blog Society. She wears many hats. She is a Homemaker*Blogger*Crafter*Reader*Pinner*Friend*Animal Lover* Former writer of Frost Illustrated and, Cancer...SURVIVOR! LaDonna is happily married to the love of her life, the mother of 3 grown children and "Grams" to 3 grandchildren. She adores animals and has four furbabies: Makia ( a German Shepherd, whose mission in life is to be her attached to her hip) and Hachie, (an OCD Alaskan Malamute, and Akia (An Alaskan Malamute) who is just sweet as can be. And Sassy, a four-month-old German Shepherd who has quickly stolen her heart and become the most precious fur baby of all times. Aside from the humans in her life, LaDonna's fur babies are her world.

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