As someone who has suffered from depression, I know how important it is to have family support and professional treatment. Unfortunately, with so many misconceptions about mental illness in children, some kids are not getting the help they need.
The National Mental Health Information Center estimates that as many as one in five children and adolescents may have a mental health disorder that can be identified and require treatment. Another study found that 13 percent of children ages 8 to 15 had at least one mental disorder, a rate that is comparable to diabetes, asthma, and other childhood diseases.
These disorders can interfere with the way children think, feel, and act. Research shows that kids as young as 3 can experience chronic depression.
In honor of the day, Psychology Today “Child Myths” blogger Dr. Jean Mercer, a development psychologist, addresses myths about mental illness in children:
1. Myth: Children with mental health problems are otherwise physically and intellectually healthy.
Reality: Poor growth, developmental delays and problems with language development can be related to mental health issues.
2. Myth: It is the parents fault if children suffer from mental health problems.
Reality: Mental health disorders in children are caused by biology, environment, or the combination of the two. They can be the result of abusive or neglectful treatment by caregivers or stressful events, but they are also caused by genetics or biological factors such as prenatal exposure to alcohol or drugs.
3. Myth: Treatment of mental illness in children involves the same psychiatric drugs used for adults but in smaller doses.
Reality: Researchers are testing psychiatric drugs for their safety and effectiveness in young children. Young people may have different reactions and side effects than adults. Some medications, including antidepressants and ADHD medications carry FDA warnings about potentially dangerous side effects for children.
4. Myth: Psychotherapy is not an option for young children with mental health problems.
Reality: A therapist won’t put your toddler on the couch and interpret his dreams. But there are other mental health interventions designed for use with children, including pretend play. Family therapy can also be helpful.
5. Myth: A child who exhibits mental health problems at an early age will never recover or become an independent adult.
Reality: The good news is that early and appropriate treatment of mental illness in children can make a difference. A child who has mental health problems at an early age can grow up to be a functioning adult.