Children are the source of much of our emotional and mental health, but when they are in distress they can become even more of a challenge.
And they need help.
The most common causes of emotional and behavioral problems among children are neglect, abuse and neglect of others.
Many children suffer from anxiety, depression, anxiety disorder, conduct problems, oppositional defiant disorder and other emotional disorders.
They may also have physical or mental health problems.
Research shows that more than 90% of the children in a child care facility experience some kind of emotional or behavioral problem, said Dr. Jennifer Le, a psychologist at the Child Development Program at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Children with behavioral problems often do not know why they are feeling stressed or anxious.
They need help from a licensed mental health professional.
Children and adolescents who experience a mental health problem or emotional crisis in the first five years of life are more likely to suffer from an underlying mental health issue, said Le, who works with the Children’s Mental Health Clinic at Boston University School of Medicine.
This may include:A child may experience a loss of friends or a change in social skills, such as difficulty making eye contact, speaking and communicating.
These behaviors are common in children with developmental delays, such children with autism or Asperger’s syndrome.
An anxiety disorder may affect the child’s ability to function and social skills.
Children who are emotionally withdrawn may be more likely than others to engage in risky behavior, such sleeping with a caregiver or engaging in sexual activities, said Mark S. Stott, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Childrens Hospital Boston Childrens.
Children with behavioral or emotional problems also need help in addressing their concerns, said Sperling, the director of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Institute at Boston.
She recommends talking with the child or talking to the child and her caregivers about what they need to do.
Sperling and others also recommend working with children and teens to develop strategies for coping with challenges.
Children need support and encouragement to work through challenges, she said.
But, she added, “the most important thing to do is to not put children down.”
“Children are the ones who are the first line of defense, and if they don’t have the support they need, they can go out and get hurt,” Spering said.
Children should also not become emotional or avoid social situations.
Sperging also said that if a child is experiencing distress, it is important to listen.
“They need to be allowed to express their feelings and to be heard,” she said, adding that a child’s feelings can help other children to better understand them.
“Children need to know that there are others around them who can help them.”
If you or someone you know needs help:Call a mental hospital, including Childrens Medical Center of Boston, Boston Children and Adolescents Hospital, Boston Medical Center and Boston Children, Boston Family Health, Boston Harbor Hospital and Boston Harbor Behavioral Health.
Call the National Alliance on Mental Illness hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
If you are worried about your child:Get a copy of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dm_docs/dp_dm_v_dp_dp.pdf and the Diagnosis and Statistical Profile for Mental Disorders and Related Disorders (D-SM-R) at https://www1.cdcom.com/cmpt/dp/dm/dp-dm-v.pdf.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 800 273-8387 or 1 800 564-7233.
If you need more information:The National Institute on Mental Health is a national, nonprofit, independent research and education organization with a mandate to advance mental health and help individuals, families and communities.
NIMH conducts scientific research on mental illness and the prevention and treatment of mental disorders; is a clearinghouse for information on how to improve mental health; and supports the advancement of the mental health profession.