Caring for a Child with a Mental Illness

As a parent or guardian your child’s welfare, both physically and mentally, is of the utmost importance. Helping your child develop into a happy, healthy adult is a one of life’s most difficult responsibilities and is often fraught with problems and unforeseen obstacles. However, if you are concerned about your child’s mental or emotional wellbeing there is plenty of help and support to help you through this difficult challenge.

Things to look out for

Your child is the centre of your universe and it is often difficult to accept that they are anything other than perfect. But as a parent or guardian you will most probably be in the best position to first notice any symptoms of emotional or mental distress. Identifying problems in children can be very difficult as many of the signs are typical of childhood behaviour such as:

  • Temper tantrums
  • Clinging to you or a special object (such as a blanket)
  • Inability to stay still
  • Crying
  • Bad dreams
  • Wetting the bed
  • Refusing food
  • Acting rudely
  • Vivid Fantasies

If your child displays any or all of these indicators it does not necessarily mean that your child has a mental illness. However, if any of these symptoms persist without interruption for more than two weeks or carry on past the age you would expect them to you may want to seek professional advice.

Events that may Bring about Problems

Children are very sensitive to their surroundings, remember; a lot of things are totally new to them. Circumstances that affect adults often have an even greater effect on children and may bring about problems with their emotional or mental wellbeing. High risk events include:

  • The death of a friend or family member
  • Parents divorcing (even if it is not their own parents)
  • Moving house
  • Moving schools
  • The arrival of a sibling

It is natural for a child to be distressed by any of these events. Although it may take them longer than an adult to deal with, if they show signs of distress for an extended period of time, or do not show any signs of distress, then they may be suffering from an underlying problem.

Who can Help?

Due to a new government initiative called, ‘healthy schools,’ there are many more people available to recognise and help with mental and emotional disorders. As well as school nurses and councillors your child’s teachers are also taught how to deal with a child who comes to them with their problems. While this is confidential between them and your child they will have to inform you if they feel your child is at risk of harm.

Where can I go to get Help?

If you are worried that your child may have a mental or emotional disorder then your first point of contact should be your G.P. They will be able to assess your child and, if they think it appropriate, refer them to a more specialised professional. These may include:

  • Paediatrician
  • Educational Psychologist
  • Family Therapist
  • Speech and Language Therapist
  • Mental Health Nurse
  • Clinical Psychiatrist

As well as talking through your child’s problems they may also prescribe medication to help your child cope with any specific troubles.

What treatments, other than medication, are available?

While a medical professional will only prescribe medication if they think it will help your child, it may be worth mentioning and talking through different types of treatment including:

  • Music therapy
  • Drama Therapy
  • Art Therapy
  • Play Therapy
  • Animal Therapy

A medical professional will also be able to tell you about any local groups or charities that could help your child with their specific problems.