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Signs of Mental Illness in Children

Written on: June 21st, 2017 in Health and WellnessMental IllnessTreatment

One in five children and youth experience a mental health challenge. Mental health is an important part of children’s health and well-being. Mental health problems can affect a child’s ability to succeed in school, at work, and in the community, but mental illness in children can be hard for families to identify. Even when you know the signs, it can be hard to separate normal childhood behavior from a mental health problem. Children cannot always explain their needs due to age, developmental stage, or vocabulary.

Some general symptoms that indicate a child may have a mental health need include:
• Changes in mood, behavior, or personality; including severe mood swings
• Difficulty concentrating that interferes with school or other activities
• Feeling sad, withdrawn, or irritable for long periods of time
• Intense emotions including fears or worries that affect functioning
• Physical symptoms (unexplained weight changes, sleeping problems, headaches and stomachaches)
• Decline in grades and school performance
• Changes in social interactions
• Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
• Physically harming self or others, or making plans to do so
• Substance use or abuse


Prevention and Treatment Can Help

Getting help for children when these behaviors first appear can prevent or reduce the risk of developing a behavioral health problem. There are prevention programs throughout Delaware that help children and families add new skills to their toolbox to address early signs and symptoms.

Talk to your child’s doctor or a mental health provider if you are concerned your child may have a mental illness. Only a licensed professional can diagnose mental illness. Check with your insurance or Medicaid provider to find outpatient mental health treatment providers in your area. If your child is uninsured, or is a Medicaid recipient who needs more than outpatient treatment, contact DPBHS Access at 1-800-722-7710.

If you would like to read more about identifying behavioral health concerns in children and adolescents, the following resources may be helpful:
National Alliance on Mental Illness – Know the Warning Signs
Mayo Clinic – Mental Illness in Children
National Institute of Mental Health – Treatment of Children with Mental Illness Fact Sheet


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1 in 5 Kids wil Experience a Mental Health Challenge

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