Welcome to a parent’s must know guide about learning from mental health statistics. We can use and manipulate statistics all we want and politicians are very clever at doing this. But what about mental health stats and how do we interpret them?
One research agency which looked after the statistics of the American Academy of Pediatrics for a four year period has just released some very interesting numbers indeed. They are interesting for various reasons:
they cover a four year period from 2009 -2013
- they show that there is an overall increase in the diagnosis of child mental illness of 29%
- ADHD, as one would expect, is the leader in the top five.
- ADHD is not responsible for the massive jump, as its increase on a year by year basis was around 8%
- other mental conditions such as eating disorders, depression and anxiety disorders are taking center stage.
- data was gathered from over 3 million visits to US pediatricians who were taking part in the survey.
eating disorders have shown a massive jump of about 30% in the four year period.
As parents, what can we do?
The main challenge for any parent who may suspect that their child may be mentally ill, is to act in time and get a diagnosis. But this is notoriously difficult as 50% of mental illnesses only start to appear in the early teens. But there may be signs early on that there is something amiss. The first thing to do is to get help when you notice something odd.
Children’s behavior is key
If there is a problem, you should always ask the child’s teacher if she has noticed anything. Similarly, the teacher may approach you, the parent, to highlight some problem behavior. The next step is to ask your doctor and see if your child needs a specialist visit. It is also wise to find out if the specialist has enough experience in dealing with similar problem children. There may be early warning signs:-
crying too often
evidence of self harm
changes in appetite and eating habits
If your child is very young, it may be challenging to get to the root of the problem as they cannot verbalize what they are going through. This is a challenge for many health specialists but it also leads to misdiagnosis in many cases. Did you know, for example, that ADHD mimics about 50 other childhood disorders and illnesses? That is an eye opener.
But the child may be going through some trauma such as neglect, sexual abuse or grief caused by the loss of a sibling or pet.
Know that behavioral therapy can be very effective
Sometimes, medications may be prescribed along with psychotherapy or simply behavioral therapy. The latter is more effective in the long term although it really is impossible to generalize. However, parents should be much more aware of the benefits of having therapy for their children. Too often, there is far too much emphasis on medication. We should be very wary of having medication prescribed for children under the age of six. In any case, whatever the age, there needs to be careful monitoring here.
We should also bear in mind that there is simply not enough research done on the effects of these meds on children. Ethical reasons are often quoted but there are also other implications in prescribing a mind altering drug at such a tender age. It is difficult to legislate for this.
Be informed about a child’s rights at school
If your child does have a mental illness or condition, find out if this is covered by the Section 504, IEP or IDEA, whichever is relevant to the State you are in. In many cases, help is available so it just means making use of these facilities and ensuring that your child is getting the best possible deal.
Reaching out for help.
Join support groups through your church or local community center so that you are not alone. There are many online forums too where you can get help. Get advice from the therapist on how to deal with :-
organizing leisure and sports time
making sure the whole family are on the same page
learning new ways of dealing with stress
supporting your child so that he or she can cope better.
As I said, statistics can tell us a few things but the bottom line is that we know how to act quickly and effectively to help a child who may have a mental illness or condition.
Robert Locke is an award winning author and has written extensively on parenting, ADHD, child health problems and mental disorders. You can find out more about ADHD treatment. Robert has written a parent’s must know guide about learning from mental health statistics.