Mental health refers to a person’s psychological and emotional well-being. It affects the way we think, feel and behave as well as our ability to adapt to change and deal with major life events. There are many complex factors including genetic history, organic issues, psycho-social strengths, availability of supports and social determinants of health which affect both physical and mental health. Having a mental health check-up and implementing good mental health practises can contribute to overall health and well being.
Prevalence and Presentation of Mental Health Issues Among Children
Research tells us that one in five children is at risk for, or is experiencing, a mental health issue. In younger years, boys tend to show more mental health issues than do girls, however, this prevalence balances out as children grow into adolescence.
Children’s Mental Health problems can show themselves in a variety of forms and at different ages. Children, especially younger children, often do not have the language or skills to tell us that they are feeling, thinking or experiencing something that is upsetting them or that they cannot manage. Over time, if these feelings, thoughts or experiences are not resolved, the child’s behavior and thinking about their experience may change and become persistent and difficult to address. As well, as children get older, while they may have improved thinking and language skills, they may be reluctant to share their experiences, thoughts and feelings due to feelings of privacy, inadequacy, exposure, shame or fear. Some children may struggle with other challenges such as speech and language or learning disabilities, both of which may also affect their sense of accomplishment or self worth. As children and youth get older, other mental health issues may emerge, particularly if there are unresolved issues or new issues that feel insurmountable or beyond the child’s or youth’s ability to respond and manage. Peer pressure, abuse, a sense of isolation, absence of important trusting relationships, inconsistent or harsh discipline, unavailable role models, exposure or experience of abuse, misuse of power or authority, or exposure to traumatic life experiences are examples of stressors that contribute to child and youth ability or inability to cope with challenging circumstances.
Common Children’s Mental Health Issues
There are many different types of children’s mental health issues and they affect both boys and girls of all ages. The following is a general description of some children’s mental health disorders. This is not a complete list and the symptoms are not fully described. They are provided to you as information to explore and consult with professionals if needed. In Ontario, only a psychologist or psychiatrist is authorized to make a diagnosis of a childhood mental health disorder. Only a physician or psychiatrist may prescribe medication.
As with all disorders, both physical and mental, early identification contributes significantly to improvement in mental health. Through research, we know that mental health treatment works particularly when addressed early. Please seek the advice of a professional or a medical practitioner if you have doubts or concerns. Even if your worry about your child proves to not be serious, a mental health check up, just like a physical check up, is a good practice for anyone at any age!
- Alberta Health Services – What is Mental Health?
- Canadian Mental Health Association – Understanding Mental Illness
- Children’s Mental Health Ontario – Mental Health: The Basics
- National Institutes of Mental Health – Child and Adolescent Mental Health
- Canadian Paediatric Society – Your Child’s Mental Health