When your child’s emotions or behaviour seem unusual or harmful, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and even hopeless. Our child psychologists offer counselling services to children and their families. Counselling allows children and adolescents to live happy lives and help to reduce the emotional causes of challenging behaviour.
Why Your Child Need a Psychologist
When you’re desperate for help, it’s tempting to go with the first person you find. At Three Seas Counselling, though, we emphasise the importance of choosing a child psychologist who specialises in children. Children think, process information, and communicate differently from adults, so a counsellor who specialises in child issues is going to be much more adept at drawing your child out and helping them. This means faster results and less expense for you.
A handful of reasons to choose a child psychologist include:
- Your child’s psychologist will know the best techniques for getting your child to talk; children aren’t always comfortable talking to adults they don’t know.
- He/she will be keenly aware of the differences between how mental illness affects adults and children, thereby encouraging appropriate treatment.
- The psychologist will be more effective at establishing a sense of trust with your child.
- Psychologist’s knowledge of and experience with children will enable them to make the most appropriate recommendations about parenting, discipline, and other common issues.
- Psychologists know how much to share with you, and how much to keep confidential, enabling the best balance between promoting trust with your child and ensuring you have access to the information you need.
- He/she knows how to explain mental illness to your child, without making him/her feel bad or damaged, in a language he/she can clearly understand.
You and your child deserve the very best treatment possible. At Three Seas, we treat you like the unique individuals you are, offering comprehensive child and family services in a comfortable, confidential, compassionate, and safe setting. Your family can overcome this challenge, but not without help!
Mental Illness in Children
For adults overwhelmed with the responsibility of paying bills, working a challenging job, and managing a family, it’s easy to idealise childhood as a time of ease and comfort. Kids have little control over their lives, which can lead to tantrums, behaviour problems, and difficulty making right decisions. They also face more stress than ever before. From schoolyard bullies to the demands of increasingly challenging academic settings, the Australian kids of today face more pressure than ever before.
Not all parents are willing to respond in the affirmative about whether any of their kid has a mental illness. That’s why a large number of mental health conditions among children go undiagnosed. The rate of depression among Australian teens is especially high, with 12% of teens experiencing suicidal feelings and nearly five percent attempting suicide.
Some parents are tempted to dismiss their kid’s mental health issues as bad behaviour, teenage moodiness, or just normal childhood challenges. But actual mental illness won’t get better on its own. Indeed, research suggests that the earlier parents opt to treat their children’s mental health conditions, the less likely the child is to struggle with mental illness. Mental health issues are real disorders just like cancer or diabetes. They’re highly treatable, but only with prompt professional intervention.
Common Mental Health Issues Among Children
Medical professionals have identified hundreds of mental health conditions, and children are vulnerable to almost every affliction adults face. Some mental health disorders are more common than others, though, particularly among children. Some of the most common challenges kids face, as well as their symptoms, include:
Depression is characterised by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, negativity, and guilt. Some children may also express anger or cope with their depression by having frequent tantrums. Kids with depression lose interest in friends and family, as well as previously beloved activities. They may struggle to sleep, eat, or get out of bed, and often experience unexplained aches and pains.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Generalised anxiety disorder results in chronic anxiety that doesn’t seem related to any particular thing. If your child is being bullied or abused and feels anxious, then, he or she likely does not have GAD. Kids with GAD may struggle to eat or sleep, experience physical anxiety symptoms such as a racing heart or nausea, and may have difficulties concentrating in school.
Attachment disorders disrupt the children’s ability to form normal, healthy attachments to loving adults. These disorders almost always result from abusive or neglectful treatment in early childhood, so are especially prevalent among adopted and foster children. Children with attachment disorders may struggle to feel love for their caregivers, act out against siblings, and experience symptoms of other mental disorders, most notably depression.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a reaction to a traumatic event such as being abused, getting into a life-threatening accident, or seeing a loved one die a violent death. Children with PTSD often have behavioural problems. They also struggle with anxiety and depression. PTSD causes kids to experience intrusive memories of the traumatic event known as flashbacks. During these flashbacks, your child may appear not to know where he is, or may react strangely to contact with you or other loved ones. Some children with PTSD behave aggressively while others take dramatic steps to avoid the source of their anxiety. For instance, if your child was molested by a stranger at church, he/she might be terrified of church and do anything to avoid going.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is the most commonly diagnosed mental health condition among Australian youth, as well as a leading contributor to learning disabilities. Kids with ADHD are hyper and fidgety. They still have difficulty with sitting and struggle to listen and concentrate. These struggles can undermine their ability to make friends, to empathise with others, and to feel good about themselves. Consequently, many kids with ADHD eventually develop symptoms of depression and anxiety. Early treatment is of paramount importance since it can prevent the disorder from persisting into adulthood. A related disorder, attention deficit disorder (ADD), results in difficulty with attention, but no hyperactivity. These kids may appear introverted, aloof, or distracted.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
Oppositional defiant disorder is defiance and rebellion that goes far beyond age-appropriate norms. Children with ODD may behave violently and aggressively, ignoring reasonable rules from parents. A teen who carries a gun to school, for instance, may have ODD, but a teen who tries alcohol or who periodically yells at her parents is likely just experiencing the normal trajectory of teenage development. ODD can lead to criminal behaviour, cause your child to struggle in school, and even lead them to hurt others, so prompt treatment is incredibly important.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder has two distinct components. First, a child must experience obsessive anxious thoughts, usually about a specific fear. For instance, your child might be terrified of getting a disease or dying in a car crash. To alleviate these fears, kids engage in ritualistic compulsions. The compulsions don’t directly address the fear, but they offer short-lived relief. For instance, a child might tap on the door eight times every time he/she walks by it. Over time, compulsions tend to become more intrusive. A door-tapping compulsion might, over time, give rise to the need to constantly tap something.
Eating disorders are among the most lethal mental health conditions a child can experience. Even if your kids escape with their life intact, eating disorders can stunt their emotional and physical development, leading to a lifetime of problems. Though most eating disorder victims are female, about 10% are male, that number will likely increase. The most common eating disorders are:
- Binge eating disorder, which causes its sufferers to eat dangerously large quantities of food in short periods of time. It may contribute to obesity.
- Bulimia nervosa, which causes its sufferers to binge and then purge, usually by vomiting or with the assistance of laxatives. Dental problems and organ damage are common among people with this ailment.
- Anorexia nervosa, which leads to dramatically decreased food intake. Many people with anorexia die due to malnourishment or dehydration. Most sufferers lose large quantities of weight in a short period, rendering them susceptible to a host of dangerous medical conditions.
What Causes Mental Disorders in Children?
Mental illness is just as complicated as physical illness. There’s no single cause that can explain any single mental illness, and most illnesses result from a combination of biological, environmental, and lifestyle issues. Just as an unhealthy diet, the wrong genetic legacy, and chronic stress can increase vulnerability to a child’s likelihood of developing mental illness.
Your child’s genetic heritage is a major predictor of her vulnerability to mental illness. Many mental illnesses may have a genetic component, and in the right environment, this genetic legacy can give rise to mental illness. Some research even suggests that the specific mental illness a child gets depends on her environment. A child with a genetic predisposition to mental illness may get depression in one context, but schizophrenia in another.
Family history plays an important role. If someone in your family to whom your son or daughter is close has a mental illness, your kid may get it too, even if they’re not genetically related. Children learn from what the adults around them do, and if your child spends his or her childhood seeing adults react in inappropriate ways, those reactions may feel normal, and even healthy, causing your child to adopt these problematic reactions them self.
The family environment also plays a significant role. Children living in chaotic, abusive families are highly vulnerable to mental health conditions. Parents are more likely to report mental health symptoms in their children after a divorce, death in the family, or major trauma.
A childhood history of intense stress or trauma can render your child much more vulnerable to mental illness. Some mental disorders, such as PTSD, are the direct result of trauma. Others may be more likely in trauma victims. For example, a child who was abused by a parent may suffer a loss of self-worth and self-esteem that increases her vulnerability to depression.
Sexism on Female
Being female is also a risk factor for mental illness. Doctors have not identified a genetic or hormonal reason for this phenomenon. Instead, it’s likely that a number of factors are at play.
Sexism is still alive and well, with 25% of adult women experiencing rape, domestic abuse, or some other form of gendered violence. This chronic stress renders girls more vulnerable to mental illness. And because girls are more likely than boys to be victims of violence, they’re also more likely to get trauma-related conditions, such as PTSD.
Lifestyle also plays a role. Children living in poverty are much more likely to become mentally ill, likely because of the stress of poverty. Unhealthy eating habits, insufficient exercise, poor parenting, and other lifestyle risks can also prove problematic. In children who already have a mental illness, these factors can conspire to worsen the condition.
How Children’s Mental Health Affects a Family
It’s not always easy to admit that your child needs help or that your parenting isn’t sufficient to manage your child’s behaviour. But mental illness in children does much more than contribute to bad grades and frequent conflict. When children don’t get the mental health help they need, the whole family can suffer common challenges, including:
- Relationship conflict, including divorce and separation
- Other children in the family feeling neglected, unimportant, or afraid of their mentally ill siblings
- Legal problems for you or your child
- Chronic stress
- Stress-related health ailments for you, your partner, or your child
- Depression and other mental illnesses; about half of all caregivers for a mentally ill person show signs of depression themselves.
How can a child psychologist help?
Mental illness cannot be cured, but it can be treated. In some cases, treatment works so well that symptoms disappear for months or even years. Unfortunately, though, mental illnesses are chronic and progressive. This means that if left untreated, these conditions will only get worse with time. With proper treatment, though, you and your child can get back on track.
Individual therapy helps your children understand how their behaviour affects themselves and those around them. In individual therapy, they’ll also have a chance to express their feelings about life at home and school. This information can be used to devise an effective plan for combating their condition and managing their behaviour. Your child’s therapist will also work with your child to find effective coping mechanisms for managing stress, and will steadily work to help them learn better behaviour than the ones they currently have.
Mental illness has the power to impact an entire family. Family therapy allows each member of your family to learn about your child’s condition, in addition to finding new ways to support them. If there are family issues contributing to your child’s difficulties, you’ll also tackle these. Family therapy can also serve as a source of support for other family members, who may feel overwhelmed or neglected due to your child’s mental health struggles.
Parenting Skills Training
It’s not easy to parent a child with mental illness, and you’re bound to make some mistakes. Before you realised your child was mentally ill, for instance, you might have punished them for behaviour they couldn’t control, thereby worsening those behaviours. Parenting skills training helps you learn the most efficient ways possible to manage your child’s condition. Your child’s therapist will advise you on the best possible discipline tactics, recommend steps you can take to reduce your child’s stress, and help you find new ways to manage the stress that comes with parenting a child with special needs.
Medication can make a world of difference for children struggling with mental illness. Mental health conditions are real brain disorders, not something your child can fake or exaggerate. Medication helps to restore balance to your child’s brain chemistry, making it easier for them to function in the world. In some cases, medication is a short-term solution. As your child gains new skills and understanding, they may be able to transition off medication. Even if they have to take medication for life, though, the earlier they start it, the more likely it is that they will progress.
Mental health conditions can be worsened by an unhealthy lifestyle, so your child’s therapist may make recommendations for lifestyle changes that can minimise the severity of your child’s symptoms. Some potentially effective lifestyle changes include:
- Reducing stress at home
- Helping your child make friends by teaching them social skills
- Exercise, especially aerobic exercise
- Proper nutrition
- Plenty of sleep
- A healthy and fair approach to discipline that does not include spanking, name-calling, or yelling
- Helping your child master new skills and hobbies
- Ensuring your child has sufficient time for play
If you’re struggling to manage your child’s condition at home, things keep getting worse, or your child is a danger to themself or to others, hospitalisation can help you keep your child safe. While in the hospital, medical professionals will work to stabilise your child with the right medication, offer her/him counselling and support, and then discharge them when they are ready to go home. You’ll get plenty of assistance developing a plan for your child’s discharge, and the break from the stress of living with a child with mental illness may help you parent more effectively when your child returns home.