How Do You Deal With a Mentally Unstable Child

11 Jan 2022
Gain insights on dealing with a mentally unstable child, from recognizing signs to seeking professional help and effective support strategies.

Understanding Mental Health in Children

Before addressing how to deal with a mentally unstable child, it's essential to understand what mental health disorders in children are and how they are diagnosed. This foundational knowledge will help parents, caregivers, and educators better navigate the challenges that may arise.

Definition of Mental Disorders

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines mental disorders in children as “serious changes in the way children typically learn, behave, or handle their emotions, which cause distress and problems getting through the day.” These changes are often persistent and interfere with the child's daily life, relationships, and ability to function at home, school, or in social situations.

Mental health disorders in children can range from anxiety, depression, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to autism spectrum disorders (ASD), eating disorders, and mood disorders. It's important to note that mental health disorders are not the result of poor parenting, personal weakness, or a lack of willpower and cannot be cured by punishment or discipline.

Moreover, children's mental health is not limited to mental disorders. Other conditions and concerns that affect children’s learning, behavior, and emotions include learning and developmental disabilities, autism, and risk factors like substance use and self-harm.

Diagnosis and Conditions

Diagnosing mental disorders in children can be challenging due to the differences in physical, mental, and emotional changes experienced by children as they grow, learn to cope, and interact with the world. The diagnosis must consider how well a child functions in various settings and their individual symptoms and age.

Healthcare professionals use the guidelines in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual to help diagnose mental health disorders in children. Mental disorders in children are diagnosed based on signs and symptoms, which can be especially difficult due to behaviors that may overlap with normal development stages. Doctors rely on thorough evaluations, medical history, physical exams, and specialized diagnostic tools to determine if a child has a mental disorder.

With effective treatment, which could include medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both, many children can manage their conditions successfully since there are many physical factors involved in the development of a mental disorder, including heredity and brain chemistry. In fact, 75-90% of individuals who receive help respond positively to intervention and make progress.

Understanding mental disorders in children is the first step toward addressing the question of how to deal with a mentally unstable child. With this knowledge, parents and caregivers can better navigate the challenges associated with these conditions and seek appropriate help when necessary.

Signs of Mental Health Issues

Recognizing and addressing signs of mental health issues in children is crucial for their well-being and development. These signs may manifest as substantial changes in their behavior, emotions, or learning abilities, causing distress and problems in daily life.

Behavioral and Emotional Changes

Behavioral and emotional changes can be pivotal indicators of mental health issues in children. According to the CDC, mental disorders among children are described as serious changes in the way children typically learn, behave, or handle their emotions.

Children with mental health conditions may express them differently than adults. For instance, depressed children will often display more irritability than depressed adults, who typically exhibit sadness [1].

Warning Signs to Look For

Parents and caregivers should be watchful for persistent problems that last over an extended period or begin to interfere with their child's relationships, school performance, or daily living. These could be signs of a mental health disorder [4].

Other conditions and concerns that can impact children's learning, behavior, and emotions include learning and developmental disabilities, autism, and risk factors like substance use and self-harm. Experiencing trauma, sudden life changes, violence, or other incidents may cause a child to feel anxious or depressed, leading to mental health issues [2].

Parents and caregivers are advised to seek immediate assistance if they believe their child is in danger of harming themselves or others. They can contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for support.

Recognizing the signs of mental health issues in children is the first step towards getting them the help they need. In the next sections, we will explore strategies for supporting a mentally unstable child and seeking professional help.

Supporting a Mentally Unstable Child

Supporting a mentally unstable child can be a challenging endeavor for parents and caregivers. The journey, however, can be made easier by understanding the child's condition, providing empathetic support, and seeking professional help when needed.

Providing Support and Encouragement

Dealing with a mentally unstable child involves offering support and encouragement. It's essential to be a consistent support system, listening more than speaking, and respecting their feelings. Remember to allow them to express themselves, even if it means giving them space when they request or demand it.

Initiating conversations about mental health requires active listening and leading with questions to better understand their perspective. It's also important to educate yourself about the illness to understand it better, which can help in providing the appropriate support.

Remember, this can be a challenging journey, and it's important to take care of yourself too. As NAMI puts it, "To be able to care for the people you love, you must first take care of yourself."

Seeking Professional Help

Recognizing your child's mental health problems and seeking professional support are crucial steps [7]. If your child's behavior concerns you, consult your doctor and share the documented behaviors. Your doctor may suggest further steps or refer you to other healthcare professionals, such as a child psychologist or a child and adolescent psychiatrist for more serious cases [7].

In cases where your child needs community mental health services, there are various resources available to provide necessary support [5]. It's also vital to seek immediate assistance if you believe your child is in danger of harming themselves or others. Services like the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline can provide crucial support in such situations.

Remember, parents of children with mental health difficulties may also need counseling for their own stress management and assistance with family relationships. Seeking professional support is recommended if feelings of fatigue, grief, guilt, fear, or anxiety become overwhelming. Dealing with a mentally unstable child is a journey that you don't have to walk alone. There are resources available to help both you and your child navigate these challenges.

Seeking Help for a Mentally Unstable Child

Navigating life with a mentally unstable child can be a challenging and emotionally draining journey. However, there are several resources available to parents and caregivers that can provide much-needed support and guidance.

Consulting Healthcare Professionals

Recognizing that your child has a mental health problem and seeking professional support are important initial steps. Early support from healthcare professionals can benefit the whole family.

Seeking professional advice and support for mental illness in children can begin with consulting your doctor and sharing documented behaviors that concern you. Your doctor may suggest further steps or refer you to other healthcare professionals, such as a child psychologist or a child and adolescent psychiatrist for more serious cases [7].

If parents suspect that their child's behavior is not just a phase, they are encouraged to make an appointment with their pediatrician to explore potential causes for the behavior, such as a history of medical conditions or trauma. Seeking appropriate support can help identify mental health conditions in children and explore treatment options [1].

Crisis Intervention and Resources

In cases where a child is in immediate danger of harming themselves or others, parents and caregivers are advised to seek immediate assistance. They can contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling, texting, or chatting the Lifeline for support.

SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, aims to lead public health and service delivery efforts to promote mental health, prevent substance misuse, provide treatments, and supports for recovery while ensuring equitable access and improved outcomes.

Many healthcare providers require patients to create a crisis plan in case of an emergency. Ask your loved one if they have developed a plan. A Recovery Action Plan can also be very helpful for your loved one to plan their overall care, and how to avoid a crisis [8].

Parents of children with mental health difficulties may need counseling for their own stress management and assistance with family relationships. Seeking professional support is recommended if feeling overwhelmed with fatigue, grief, guilt, fear, or anxiety.

In conclusion, understanding how to deal with a mentally unstable child involves recognizing the signs, seeking professional advice, and using available resources. By doing so, parents and caregivers can better support their child's mental health needs and create a caring environment that fosters growth and development.

Coping Strategies for Parents

Dealing with a mentally unstable child can be a challenging and emotionally draining experience for parents. It's essential to be equipped with effective coping strategies to manage stress and ensure the overall well-being of the family.

Self-Care and Stress Management

The first step in dealing with a mentally unstable child is to take care of yourself. As advised by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), it's like the advice we're given on airplanes: put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help someone else with theirs. This analogy emphasizes the importance of prioritizing your health and well-being to provide effective care for your child.

It's not uncommon for parents of children with mental health difficulties to experience feelings of fatigue, grief, guilt, fear, or anxiety. If these feelings become overwhelming, it's advisable to seek professional support for stress management and assistance with family relationships [7].

Incorporating practices like regular exercise, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and mindfulness exercises can also be beneficial in managing stress.

Developing a Crisis Plan

Having a crisis plan in place is another crucial coping strategy for parents. This plan outlines the steps to take if a mental health crisis arises. Many healthcare providers require patients to create a crisis plan, and it's beneficial to ask your child if they have developed one.

A well-structured crisis plan should include:

  • Emergency contact details, including healthcare providers and trusted family members or friends.
  • A list of medications your child is taking, along with dosages.
  • Details of any known triggers that can exacerbate your child's condition, and how to avoid them.
  • A list of behaviors that might signal a crisis.
  • Steps to take in case of a crisis, including safe places and calming strategies.

Developing a crisis plan can not only help manage potential crises more effectively, but it can also provide a sense of control and preparedness.

Remember, recognizing that your child has a mental health problem and seeking professional support are important initial steps. Early support from healthcare professionals can benefit the whole family and play a crucial role in managing the child's mental health condition.

Preventive Strategies for Youth Mental Health

Prevention and early intervention are crucial strategies when addressing mental health in children. They can significantly impact the child's health and well-being, allowing for more effective healthcare pathways by taking action before health problems worsen or by preventing their onset [9].

Early Intervention and Prevention

Early intervention and prevention in youth mental health involve enhancing the strengths, capacity, and resources of individuals and communities. The goal is to enable them to increase control over their mental health and its determinants. Prevention aims to reduce the incidence, prevalence, and severity of targeted mental health conditions.

Primary prevention strategies can be universal, selective, or indicated. Universal prevention aims to promote normal neurodevelopment, while selective prevention aims to prevent the manifestation of psychiatric symptoms. Indicated prevention targets individuals at clinical high risk for the development of a mental disorder who are functionally impaired and no longer asymptomatic.

Collaborative Care Models

Collaborative care models that integrate and coordinate healthcare services have been shown to be effective in reducing the impact of mental health problems in youth. For example, the Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Project (MCPAP) and the Massachusetts Mental Health Services Program for Youth (MHSPY) have implemented integrated and multidisciplinary services to enhance early intervention and improve psychosocial functioning. Similar models, such as Headspace in Australia, have been developed in other countries.

However, it's important to recognize that mental health services have not effectively provided healthcare during the critical period of youth. This results in delays in receiving care and a modest use of mental health services despite the high prevalence of mental health problems among young individuals [10].

In conclusion, implementing early intervention, prevention strategies, and collaborative care models can significantly improve the mental health outcomes for children. By taking proactive steps, parents, healthcare professionals, and communities can ensure that children receive the support and care they need to navigate their mental health challenges.

References

[1]: https://bonnergeneral.org/is-it-a-mental-illness-or-just-a-phase/

[2]: https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/symptoms.html

[3]: https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-illness-children

[4]: https://www.chrichmond.org/services/mental-health/family-support-resources/signs-of-problems-and-disorders

[5]: https://www.samhsa.gov/mental-health/how-to-talk/parents-and-caregivers

[6]: https://www.quora.com/What-are-some-tips-for-dealing-with-mentally-unstable-children-especially-when-they-are-adults

[7]: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/Helping-your-child-with-mental-illness

[8]: https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Family-Members-and-Caregivers

[9]: https://ijmhs.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13033-020-00356-9

[10]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7092613/

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