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Symptoms of mental illness in children can differ depending on the age of the child. Older children and pre-adolescents display signs that often are not present in younger offspring. A change in sleep patterns, however, is a common sign of mental illness in children of all ages, along with disobedience, aggressive behavior, or angry outbursts.
An elementary school student who suffers from mental illness might earn poor grades even though he or she tries hard to excel. Losing interest in school or a decrease in the level of effort devoted to school lessons are additional signs of mental illness in young children. The child may worry excessively or wakes up with frequent nightmares, which can develop into refusing to go to bed at night. Some children exhibit hyperactivity and engage in temper tantrums that might lead to aggressive acts.
Older children could abuse drugs or alcohol, skip school, and commit criminal acts such as vandalism or theft. They may become angry at the slightest provocation and react to minor issues with outbursts. Some adolescents suffering from mental illness become preoccupied with their weight, leading to eating disorders and deterioration of physical health. Negative thinking and thoughts of suicide characterize serious symptoms of mental illness.
More than 200 types of psychiatric illnesses exist, and many can affect children and adults. A common sign of mental illness in children is the inability to cope with the daily patterns of life, leading to changes in mood or habits. Some of the most common forms of mental illness in children include bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders.
Children inherit genes that make them predisposed to mental health problems. Mental illness can also be provoked by chemical imbalances in the brain that are treatable with medication. Sometimes stress over specific situations or life circumstances results in depression and feelings of hopelessness.
A doctor looks at the signs and symptoms to diagnose mental illness in children, and uses a physical examination to seek other reasons for the problematic behavior. Once physical causes are ruled out, the physician can refer the child to a psychiatrist or psychologist for evaluation. Through interviews to assess the child's symptoms and behavior, mental health professionals determine treatment options.
Treatment of mental illness in children involves the use of medication, including antidepressants, stimulants, and anti-anxiety drugs. The pharmaceutical treatment is generally combined with psychotherapy to help the child understand and deal with the issues that caused mental stress. Art and play therapy are often effective for young children who do not have the vocabulary to adequately express themselves.
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