Diagnosing Mental Illness in Children

As adults, it is our responsibility to take care of our children — physically, mentally, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. We do our best to guide them into a successful adulthood by meeting all their needs and providing for at least some of their wants. It’s a big job, as every parent knows.

Even before birth, we read everything we can find about taking care of our kids and what to do when something happens. There is a lot of advice out there about physical and mental health in children, but some of it is contradictory or confusing. When it comes to our children’s physical health, things are a bit more clear-cut. We are constantly on the alert for symptoms of physical sickness, and we call the doctor at the first sign of trouble. But what about our children’s mental health? This is much more complicated.

If our children seem to be acting differently, do they really have a problem or is what we are witnessing a normal age-related development? Is a particular behavior or mood a symptom of a mental health disorder or simply a sign that perhaps he is a little slow to develop emotionally?  Is the child merely tired, hungry, anxious about a test, or does she have a learning disorder?

It is important to realize that an episode or two of troubling behavior is not enough upon which to base a mental health diagnosis. All kids go through phases. When unusual behavior lasts for six weeks or so, then you should be concerned. Where do you begin? You may want to talk to the child’s teacher and physician to eliminate a physical cause or a school-related reason for your child’s symptoms, before making an appointment with a mental health professional.

If your child receives a mental health diagnosis, please seek confirmation. As you will learn in the attached infographic, Mental Health Misdiagnoses in Children, the most common conditions can be incorrectly diagnosed. Some of the behavior that seems to indicate a certain illness may have other, non-medical causes, or the child might have a mental disorder but perhaps a different one.

The infographic lists the most common mental health diagnoses made for children and offers a list of alternatives and other disorders that are perhaps more accurate. As the advocate for children’s health, it is up to the adults in their lives to be certain to get an accurate diagnosis before treatment for any condition. Whether talk therapy or medication is prescribed, the wrong diagnosis can be dangerous. It can result in adverse physical side effects, confusion and most importantly, a delay in getting the right treatment.

Continue reading to learn more about this important topic.

Infographic provided by MySpectrum, providing counseling in Virginia
Stanley Luis
the authorStanley Luis