Understanding And Supporting Your Child's Mental Health
Signs that indicate your child is suffering from anxiety and depression.
You may see your child's outbursts and believe that they're simply acting out. Or notice that their enthusiasm for the things they love has waned and dismiss it as a phase or part of growing up. In doing so, it may be hard to recognise that your child is anxious or depressed. Recognizing the signs of anxiety and depression is the first step to helping your child deal with their feelings and behaviours.
How common is anxiety and depression in children and adolescents?
According to Mental Health Ireland: “Mental health problems affect about one in ten children and young people. They include depression and anxiety and are often a direct response to what is happening in their lives”. The prevalence of anxiety and depressive disorders in the Challenging Times Adolescent Mental Health study was 3.7% and 4.5% respectively. Anxiety doesn't usually just go away, and can get worse with time.
Of the different types of depression, major depressive disorder (MDD) characterized by a persistent feeling of sadness and diminished interests (two of eight symptoms) can be a lifelong condition. Unfortunately, MDD often goes unrecognised and untreated in kids.
What are the signs of anxiety in children and adolescents?
It's normal for young children to get anxious occasionally. For example, a fear of storms, strangers, dark rooms or a certain play activity in young children, or worries about scoring high marks or fitting in at school or among peers in older children and adolescents. But excessive fears or worries may indicate an anxiety disorder. Some of the signs that should raise your concerns include:
- A fear of being away from parents (separation anxiety)
- An extreme fear of a specific thing or situation (phobia)
- Extreme fear in social settings (social anxiety)
- Worrying about a number of different things when there is no or little reason to worry about them (general anxiety)
- Regularly experiencing sudden attacks of panic or fear, characterized by a pounding heart, sweating, chills,trembling, breathing
difficulties, dizziness or numbness (panic disorder)
Additional symptoms of anxiety to note are:
- Anger or aggression
- Changes in appetite leading to major changes in weight
- Trouble sleeping
- Bed wetting
- Stomach aches
- Feeling exhausted most of the time
- Talking about feeling worthless
- Trouble concentrating
- A loss of confidence
- Nail-biting, skin picking and other body-focused nervous habits
In some children and adolescents, anxiety and depression can occur together. Among adults, it's common for many to be diagnosed with both depression and an anxiety disorder. It's worth understanding the causes and signs of depression.
Why do children and adolescents get depressed?
Many factors can increase a young persons risk for depression, including:
- Parental separation or divorce
- Physical, emotional or sexual abuse
- Trouble at school (being bullied or getting low academic scores) or home (loss of a family member or financial hardship)
- A family history of depression
Frequently, a combination of these factors causes depression, and manifests in ways quite similar to symptoms of anxiety:
- Feeling sad, hopeless, or frustrated most of the time
- Feeling irritable, agitated, or angry most of the time
- Changes in eating patterns (overeating or eating a lot less than usual)
- Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping too much or trouble sleeping)
- Difficulty in paying attention
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Not wanting to take part in enjoyable activities
- Unable to feel emotions
- Self-destructive and self-inflicted injuries
What to do if you suspect your child has anxiety, depression or both?
Have your child assessed by your GP. They may make a referral to a mental health professional for further diagnosis and treatment or may recommend specialist help from a qualified child and adolescent therapist.
There are different types of therapies available to treat anxiety and depression in children and adolescents. The traditional methods used are:
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy(CBT): Cognitive-behavioural therapists help children identify unhelpful thought patterns and behaviors, and replace them with realistic thinking patterns and learn to be more adaptive to situations. Research finds that CBT boosts self-control, social skills, and problem-solving skills, among other benefits.
Psychodynamic therapy: Therapy focuses on understanding the issues that influence your child's thoughts, behaviors, and feelings, in a non-judgmental, supportive environment. It includes play strategies for younger children and talking for adolescents. It allows your child to express their emotions and over several sessions, teach them to manage their emotions.
Play Therapy: Play Therapy uses a variety of play and creative arts techniques to help the child explore their emotions and behaviours that may be interfering with their quality of life or preventing them from realising their potential. Play therapy may be non-directive, where the child decides what to do in a session or it may be directive where the therapist leads the way, or a mixture of the two. Play therapy is particularly effective for children who find it difficult to talk about their problems.
How can I help?
Parents/Guardians can help their child cope in different ways. Encourage your child to share their feelings offer validation of how they are feeling and help them view things more positively. Maintain a caring environment and ensure that your child receives physical nourishment such as a healthy diet and regular exercise.
At NorthStar Counselling &Therapy Centre in Enniscorthy, Co.Wexford, we have a number of therapists many of whom work with Children and Adolescents from age 5 – 25.
Feel free to check out our range of therapists at https://www.northstartherapy.ie/about
NorthStar Guiding You Safely Through Life’s Challenges