Children as young as four are being diagnosed with mental health issues.
One in seven Australian kids are affected by mental health issues every year, and half of all serious mental health problems in adults begin before the age of 14.
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“The numbers are really rapidly increasing, and I don’t think there’s a simple reason behind it,” said Dr Michela Sorenson, a child mental health specialist.
“Part of it is the fact that we’re more aware of what to look out for, and parents are certainly looking for the signs.
“But there are a lot of social situations that are unique to this generation that is contributing to the mental illness we’re seeing in kids.
“There’s certainly a genetic element, but social media is certainly amplifying the issue in this day and age because it’s 24/7.
“In previous generations, you had your safe space at home where you could switch off from what happened at school – but now it’s following kids into the bedroom on laptops and phones.”
Identifying the symptoms
The signs of mental illness will vary considerably from child to child, and also depends on the age of the child.
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“In little kids, there’s certainly a change in behaviour,” Sorenson said.
“They might become really cranky or throw tantrums over what seems like nothing.
“They might also be really clingy, and sleep can also be a big issue. Bed wetting is another thing to look out for if it suddenly becomes a new behaviour for them.”
Signs in teens
While children can experience mental health issues at any age, they are most at risk between the ages of 12 and 16 years.
And depression in adolescence must be taken seriously, as youth suicide is the leading cause of death in this age group.
“Throw in adolescent hormones and their moods are certainly all over the place,” Sorenson said.
“But again, parents should be looking for a real change in their behaviour compared to what it was before.
“Sleep is a big one with adolescents – whether it’s not wanting to sleep or choosing to sleep all day.
“Also look out for mood swings and social isolation. And with that, the communication just switches off as well. They just won’t open up to anyone.”
What parents can do
“Trust your gut instinct – you know your child better than anyone,” Sorenson said.
“As hard as it is, try and talk to them about it. Part of that is creating a space and non-judgemental place for them to be able to open up.
“Also try to keep your emotions in check as a parent, because if you’re becoming highly emotional, that just reinforces to the child that maybe there’s something wrong with the way they’re feeling.
“And also try to get them along to a health professional – for example, their GP.”
For more resources on mental health, visit the following websites: