CAUSES, INTERVENTION AND PREVENTION
The Causes Are Complicated--Mental health disorders in children and adolescents are caused mostly by biology and environment. Examples of biological causes are genetics, chemical imbalances in the body, or damage to the central nervous system, such as a head injury. Many environmental factors also put young people at risk for developing mental health disorders.
- Exposure to environmental toxins, such as high levels of lead;
- Exposure to violence, such as witnessing or being the victim of physical or sexual abuse, drive-by shootings, muggings, or other disasters;
- Stress related to chronic poverty, discrimination, or other serious hardships; and
- The loss of important people through death, divorce, or broken relationships.
Signs of Mental Health Disorders Can Signal a Need for Help
Children and adolescents with mental health issues need to get help as soon as possible. A variety of signs may point to mental health disorders or serious emotional disturbances in children or adolescents. Pay attention if a child or adolescent you know has any of these warning signs:
- A child or adolescent is troubled by feeling:
- Sad and hopeless for no reason, and these feelings do not go away.
- Very angry most of the time and crying a lot or overreacting to things.
- Worthless or guilty often.
- Anxious or worried often.
- Unable to get over a loss or death of someone important.
- Extremely fearful or having unexplained fears.
- Constantly concerned about physical problems or physical appearance.
- Frightened that his or her mind either is controlled or is out of control.
- A child or adolescent experiences big changes, such as:
- Showing declining performance in school.
- Losing interest in things once enjoyed.
- Experiencing unexplained changes in sleeping or eating patterns.
- Avoiding friends or family and wanting to be alone all the time.
- Daydreaming too much and not completing tasks.
- Feeling life is too hard to handle.
- Hearing voices that cannot be explained.
- Experiencing suicidal thoughts.
A child or adolescent experiences:
- Poor concentration and is unable to think straight or make up his or her mind.
- An inability to sit still or focus attention.Worry about being harmed, hurting others, or doing something "bad."
- A need to wash, clean things, or perform certain routines hundreds of times a day, in order to avoid an unsubstantiated danger.
- Racing thoughts that are almost too fast to follow.
- Persistent nightmares.
A child or adolescent behaves in ways that cause problems, such as:
- Using alcohol or other drugs.
- Eating large amounts of food and then purging, or abusing laxatives, to avoid weight gain.
- Dieting and/or exercising obsessively.
- Violating the rights of others or constantly breaking the law without regard for other people.
- Setting fires.
- Doing things that can be life threatening.
- Killing animals.
Source: SAMHSA's National Mental Health Information Center: Child and Adolescent Mental Health http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/publications/allpubs/CA-0004/default.asp
These signs may indicate depression:
- Low self-esteem
- Anger management problems or preoccupation with violence
- Irritating, fighting with or withdrawing from friends, teachers and/or parents
- Refusing to go to school
- Behaving to get negative attention
- Doing poorly or dropping out of school
- Becoming pregnant early in life
- Increased physical health problems
- Becoming a smoker
- Abusing alcohol or drugs
- Threatening suicide or homicide
Most suicidal young people don’t really want to die; they just want their pain to end. About 80% of the time, people who kill themselves have given definite signals or talked about suicide.Watch for these signs. They may indicate someone is thinking about suicide. The more signs you see, the greater the risk.
- A previous suicide attempt
- Current talk of suicide or making a plan
- Strong wish to die or a preoccupation with death
- Giving away prized possessions
- Signs of depression, such as moodiness, hopelessness, withdrawal
- Increased alcohol and/or other drug use
- Hinting at not being around in the future or saying good-bye