How to recognize if your child may have a mental illness

Being a parent is arguably one of the toughest jobs you will have, and the role certainly doesn't come with an instruction manual. Often times, a child's extreme feelings or emotions go unnoticed due to busy schedules or they're attributed to being "just a phase". But it's important to try and tune in, as these emotions can be a sign of a bigger issue. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 children ages 13 to 18 have, or will have a serious mental illness.

Kelley Kardys, BSN, RN-BC, youth services program manager, Parkview Behavioral Health, says that most parents aren't familiar with the symptoms that can help them detect mental illness earlier. Knowledge can be power when striving for early diagnosis and treatment, so Gladys Beale, MD, board-certified child/adolescent psychiatrist, Parkview Behavioral Health, encourages parents to look for these symptoms as possible red flags that might alert them to seek mental health advice:

  • Major change in behavior
  • A sudden drop in grades
  • A change in social circle
  • Increased moodiness
  • Changes in sleeping habits and/or persistent nightmares
  • Excessive fear, worry and crying
  • Prolonged tantrums  (over 10 – 15 minutes)

If you are concerned your child might have a mental illness, Dr. Beale suggests starting a conversation by asking the child the following questions:

  • Do you feel comfortable talking with me?
  • Are you happy?
  • Are you worried?
  • Do you feel sad?
  • Who are your friends?

Any negative answers warrant further investigation.

“Many children face emotional struggles,” Kelley said. “Some are from normal development phases, but for some children these may indicate psychiatric illness.” She emphasizes the gravity of the parents’ role in addressing the condition. “Once you seek help for your child, it is very important that you’re involved in the evaluation and treatment of your child. Your participation is vital to the success of his or her journey to mental well-being.”

For more information, contact the Parkview Behavioral Health HelpLine at (260) 373-7500 or 1-800-284-8439. 

Need assistance?

Contact us