How Is Mental Illness in Children Diagnosed
Jul 20, 2018 11:21AM
By Staff Writer
According to industry experts, approximately one out of every five children between the ages of 13 and 18 has or will be diagnosed with a mental illness.*
However, as children are developing mentally and physically, their behavior may be difficult to analyze. Anxiety, anger, and shyness can all be a part of developmental growth or a temporary condition rather than an illness.
Diagnosis usually begins with a medical doctor who takes a lengthy history and examines the child to rule out physical reasons for the difficulties. Lab tests may also be done to test for side effects of medication, for allergies, or for other conditions that could produce symptoms.
If no medical reason is found for the behavior, the doctor refers the child to a psychologist or psychiatrist who treats children and adolescents. A psychologist is trained to evaluate and diagnose mental illnesses but usually treats them through counseling or behavioral therapy. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who can diagnose mental illnesses and write prescriptions for medication. Often, the two will work together to provide a combination of counseling and medication. Other therapies, such as music or art, may be added to conventional treatments.
Initial diagnosis is based on reports of behavior from parents, caregivers, and teachers in order to understand how the child functions in different situations. Often a child will have a combination of two or more behaviors, such as anxiety and bedwetting.
The following disorders are common in childhood:
• Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
• Eating problems
• Bathroom issues
• Feelings of sadness, or moodiness
• Disruptive behavior
• Learning disorders, such as dyslexia
• Involuntary movements, or tics
• Schizophrenia, or distorted thoughts and feelings
Some disorders begin in childhood and continue into adolescence and adulthood. Others go away or improve with age, and some begin later in life. Mental illnesses are usually caused by a combination of factors that fall into four broad categories: environmental, genetic, biological, and psychological. For instance, a child who has a genetic predisposition may develop a disorder when exposed to toxins or physical abuse.
Although many parents want to avoid medication or the stigma of a mental diagnosis, the prognosis is brighter with proper treatment. If a child does not receive necessary care, the illness may continue into adulthood, creating high risk for issues such as substance abuse, antisocial behavior, or suicide. When given a correct diagnosis and treatment, outlook for a healthy life as an adult is much more positive.