Just like adults, children can also experience a decline in their mental health – most commonly depression and anxiety. For many parents, it can be hard to identify when a child is in crisis. Not as a result of bad parenting, but because they simply might not understand the warning signs and symptoms associated with mental illness. In addition, younger children may also lack the developmental ability or vocabulary to properly express how they are feeling. Because of these reasons, children may not get the appropriate help when they need it – but these are also the reasons why it’s so crucial to know what the telltale signs of mental illness are.
As mentioned, depression and anxiety are two of the most common types of mental health issues children will experience. However, they can also experience a number of other conditions relating to their mental health, including Attention-deficit disorder (ADD), Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), eating disorders (such as anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating), schizophrenia, and other mood disorders (including bipolar disorder.)
Each of the aforementioned conditions come with varying symptoms. A child with ADD or ADHD, for example, will often have difficult paying attention as well as experience hyperactivity and engage in impulsive behaviour. Autism is a developmental disorder that usually appears in children before the age of 3 and can disrupt the way in which a child interacts and communicates with others. When it comes to eating disorders, a child may avoid food or become so preoccupied with food and their weight that they don’t focus on much else. Schizophrenia often appears in late teenage years and the 20s, which causes an individual to lose touch with reality (also often referred to as psychosis.) As for depression and anxiety, a child may cry frequently, have thoughts of self-harm, lose interest in things they once enjoyed, or panic in certain situations. If you notice any of these symptoms in your child, it’s important to seek medical intervention by seeing your family physician. He or she will be able to set you up with a referral to a local mental health program, psychiatrist or counsellor, and will also be able to prescribe your child medication if necessary. Parents should also try to encourage their children to express their feelings – though this is sometimes easier said than done.
In addition to referrals, there are also other ways in which Canada’s youth can seek help if they are in crisis. Since 1989, the Kids Help Phone has been offering free counselling services to millions of youth across the country 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year via a toll-free number: 1-800-668-6868. They offer youth advice and resources on all sorts of issues including the ones mentioned above, in addition to substance abuse, grief and loss, issues with self-esteem, friendships, emotional and sexual abuse, bullying, \relationships, teenage pregnancy, self-identity (including help for indigenous or LGBTQ individuals, as well as support for those suffering from issues with body image), and even physical health. Along with their toll-free line, Kids Help Phone recently launched a pilot project earlier this year in which young people could access their services through a 24/7 text message support line. It was through this pilot project that they were able to log more than 13,000 text message conversations between youth and their trained volunteer crisis responders. Now, with a national rollout of the service, all youth with a mobile device can access it by texting TALK to 686868 – and they don’t even need an active data plan or internet connection to do so. “We are boldly changing the landscape in virtual care,” says Katherine Hay, President and CEO of Kids Help Phone.
Always remember that if your child is experiencing suicidal thoughts and ideations, they should receive immediate medical attention by either taking them to the nearest emergency room or calling 911. For more information on Kids Help Phone and the services they offer, visit kidshelpphone.ca. You can also find more mental health resources across British Columbia by clicking here.