Common Mental Illnesses in Children (Part 2)
In the earlier post on common mental illness in children, we took a look at some mental illnesses. In this post, we would be concluding by looking at some other mental illnesses and ways to support children suffering from mental illnesses. We would be looking at Obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and Pica eating disorder
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Obsessions are recurring thoughts while compulsions are reoccurring behaviours. As children grow, rituals and obsessive thoughts typically happen. Pre-schoolers, for instance, often have routines and habits around meals, bath time and bedtime. These routines help stabilize their expectations and view of their world. School-aged children create rituals as they learn to play games, take part in team sports and recite rhymes. Older children and teens start collecting objects and develop hobbies. All these rituals help children to socialize and learn to deal with anxiety
A child with OCD has unwanted obsessive thoughts which are linked to fears. A child might develop a phobia for touching dirty objects; the child then uses compulsive rituals to control the fear like excessive washing of his/her hands, obsessive thoughts and compulsive habits can be very frequent and intense. It may interfere with daily living and normal development.
The cause of OCD is not known, but research suggests it is a brain problem and persons with OCD do not have enough of a chemical called serotonin in their brain. OCD also may be genetic as it tends to run in families but may also occur without a family history of the disorder. In some instances, streptococcal infections may trigger OCD or make it worse.
The most common symptoms of OCD are:
● An extreme obsession with dirt
● Fear of contamination
● Aggressive thoughts
● Fear of illnesses
● Preoccupation with order
● Interfering thoughts about violence.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, is characterized by an inability to get over terrifying or bad life events. This condition can last for weeks, months, years or a lifetime with things that can set off or bring back memories of the past events that cause emotional and physical reactions. The most common symptoms in PTSD are:
● Behaving in an aggressive way
● Feeling nervous
● Feeling emotionally numb
● Having nightmares
● Trouble focusing at school
● Avoiding events that makes them remember the trauma
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: It is characterized by hyperactivity, inability to pay attention or low attention span and impulsiveness. According to research, 1 in 10 children between the ages of 5-17 are diagnosed with ADHD. Children that have this condition struggle with relationships and self-esteem. There are three subtypes of ADHD which are;
● Predominantly inattentive
● Predominantly hyperactive
● Combined, which is a mix of predominantly inattentive and predominantly hyperactive
Symptoms usually include hyperactivity, inattentiveness, aggression, forgetfulness, irritability, anger, anxiety and so on.
Pica eating disorder: It is characterized by repeated eating of non-nutritional foods or non-food items such as clay, erasers, crayon, glue, dirt and so on. According to research, it affects 10-30% of children within the ages of 1-6. Before a child can be diagnosed with pica, an evaluation for the presence of intellectual or developmental disorders will be taken to know where the odd behaviour stems from, and the behaviour must last for at least a month before a diagnosis can be made. Symptoms of pica usually include;
● Stomach pain
● Blood in stool
Warning signs of mental illnesses in children 1. Talking about suicide or suicidal thoughts 2. Irritability 3. Changes in eating patterns 4. Changes in sleeping patterns 5. Weight loss 6. Mood changes or mood swings 7. Trouble concentrating 8. Inflicting pain on themselves or talking about inflicting pains 9. Feeling sad 10. Extreme fear 11. Changes in behaviour 12. Withdrawal from day to day activities 13. Excessive crying 14. Throwing tantrums all the time 15. Hyperactivity
How to help children with mental illnesses The first and most important way to help children with mental illnesses is to seek professional help and support for the child. Professionals like doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists and behaviourists can help, sharing what you have noticed in your child with these professionals will help you know how to cope with your child and support your child. Creating a conducive and supportive environment for your child can help them while going through these, creating a conducive environment can include asking the child about their feelings, listening to them, encouraging them, participating in activities with them and respecting their feelings. In conclusion, children go through as many mental illnesses as they do physical illnesses; therefore, attention should be paid to the mental health of children.
Written by Akinloye Folashade, a psychology graduate from the University of Lagos (Unilag) with a passion for mental health and people with special needs .A mental health advocate looking to educate people on mental health illnesses especially in children and adolescents and help stop stigmatisation against those illnesses.