Before I begin I would like to mention that children's health, especially children's mental health, is not my area of knowledge so I will not offer a list of symptoms or behaviours that should alert parents to think that they could possibly have a mental illness. Children can exhibit symptoms that are not alike to adult mental illness and parents can tell what is normal and abnormal behaviour in their children. If you are concerned that your child could be suffering from a mental illness then your first point of call is their GP.
But if your child does have a diagnosed mental illness it can be difficult for the child and parents alike. It is important for the parents to be involved in their child’s treatment and to offer emotional support. A child experiencing a mental illness can be frightful and confusing. Children's development is vital for a healthy adult life and, if the mental illness takes hold too much and there is little support, it could affect their mental health into adulthood. Here are some tips that could help both parents and child.
Talk to the school: Let their teachers, and any supporting staff, know that your child has a mental illness. If the teacher knows then they can monitor their behaviour and learning and possibly tailor their education for good and bad days. It is important to allow the child to complete their education with minimal disruption, which will benefit in the long term.
Keep in the know with the doctor: Always speak to your doctor if you are not sure about anything to do with your child’s health and treatment. Make sure you are aware of what medication they are on (if any) and what therapy is being offered. It will help to feel more in control.
Monitor them: Make sure they are eating healthy as a balanced diet is essential for growth and development. Keep an eye on their behaviour, are they acting differently than normal?
Be there: No matter if your child is throwing tantrums, crying, screaming or generally acting out, it could be a sign that they need some attention. Forget the name calling and what they did, let them know that they will not be alone and that they can talk to their parents whenever they need to. It does not have to be about mental illness, a chat about their day at school is enough. Trips out to places they enjoy and the like is also a benefit. A cuddle on the couch whilst watching a favourite TV show together is another example.
Listen to them: Sometimes there can be subtle hints that all is not well. Mentioning aches and pains, not feeling ‘right’ and negative comments could be a sign that they are experiencing a bad patch or something needs changing. Your child knows when they are not well.
Tell them you love them: There maybe days when the child feels useless, alone, scared, confused and all the above, simply let them know that they are loved by the whole family. It is a relief to feel that your family will love you unconditionally, whether you are ill or not.
Never ever ignore the warning signs that your child could be suffering from a mental illness. Simply burying your head in the sand will not make the problem go away, but make it much worse for the child. Please don’t be afraid to ask the child what is wrong, or speak to their teachers to discuss their behaviour at school. It is vitally important for the child!
As a member of an online support group I have come across young people, often as young as 13, experiencing anxiety, depression, bipolar and schizophrenia and often feeling alienated, alone and confused. An adult experiencing a mental illness is tragic, but to hear a child suffering is heartbreaking. A healthy childhood is paramount for healthy development into adulthood and their childhood cannot be robbed by mental illness. But supportive parents could be the key to living happily and healthily.
There is plenty of support for parents who have children with a mental illness. Mind, SANE and the Samaratans are three excellent support networks, as well as YoungMinds, Barnardos and the NSPCC. Do not be afraid to ask for help!