Mental health problems in children are not uncommon | News, Sports, Jobs

Editor’s Note: May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This is the third in a four-part series on mental health and families. The series will include the impact of mental illness on a family, the influence of genetics on mental health, issues faced by children, and the importance of parents getting needed mental health care.

Childhood is often viewed as a carefree time of life, free from the stress or anxiety that comes with the often complex difficulties of adulthood.

The fact is, however, that mental health problems in children are not uncommon. In fact, 50% of diagnosable mental disorders begin around age 14.

“We used to think that kids weren’t capable of depression,” said Dr. Joseph Antonowicz, a psychiatrist in the Department of Behavioral Health Services at UPMC Altoona. “It’s a very old idea. You see depression in children.

Other serious mental health problems are also present in children.

“You see anxiety disorders in children, you see obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and you see psychotic disorders,” Antonowicz said.

It is essential that children and adolescents in difficulty receive prompt and appropriate professional intervention.

“The first thing is for parents to recognize it and deal with it,” said Denis Navarro, retired ambulatory services supervisor and clinical specialist in UPMC’s Department of Behavioral Health Services. “Then, even if it is an illness, the family remains intact and the family moves on.

In addition to anxiety disorders, major depression, bipolar disorder, and psychotic disorders like schizophrenia, children can face developmental issues like autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and memory deficit hyperactivity disorder. attention (ADHD).

When a child or adolescent is affected by a mental health problem, the whole family dynamic is affected.

“It’s very hard on the whole family,” Antonowicz said. “It’s like any other serious illness in a child. What often happens in a family is that the whole life of the family tends to revolve around the needs of the sick child. (The illness of the child) somehow becomes the center of family life.

“On the one hand, it’s almost inevitable, but on the other hand, it’s something that (a family) really wants to try not to happen, if they can do it,” Antonowicz added. “(Parents) should always bring their other children to their basketball games or school performances, and parents should attend these events. (The sick child’s siblings) must do their things as much as they can.

Siblings can be deeply affected when a sibling has a mental health issue. Siblings, as well as parents, may experience intense feelings of guilt, sadness, confusion, anger, and anxiety.

“It’s a complex situation for a family,” Antonowicz said. “Here’s this kid with these issues, and he or she gets all the attention, and (the healthy sibling(s)) try their best, but no one pays attention to them, and sometimes they can’t get along. prevent feeling ignored.

Navarro said it’s important for parents to give equal attention to their children who aren’t struggling with a mental health issue.

“How parents interpret things and explain things to siblings is a big (factor) in how siblings react to the child who has the disease,” Navarro said. “I’ve seen this in many families – siblings are very protective and supportive with a child with a condition such as autism.

“I really think siblings are guided by parents on how they’re going to react to things,” Navarro added. “What parents don’t want to do is ignore other children, or each other. Everyone has to take care of each other in this situation in some way, (so that) no one is left behind.

Along with individual therapy, family therapy can also be helpful when a child or teen is struggling with a mental health or developmental issue.

“Often we try to involve (the whole) family in therapy so that everyone gets what they need and so that education continues, so that siblings get the same benefits from parents (like the mentally ill child) the state of health is),” Antonowicz said.

Medications should be used carefully and judiciously in children and adolescents, if used.

A disciplined, caring, supportive and structured family environment is also essential.

“There have to be rules and expectations,” Antonowicz said. “Mental illness is quite disruptive at any age, but each age brings a different set of challenges and issues. As much as (the parents) can, they should try to help the child internalize this parental control. It may take time.

Next: The importance of treatment for a parent with a mental health problem.

Mirror staff writer John Hartsock can be contacted at

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