Behavior Patterns a Clue to Adolescent Mental Illness
Specialists from St. Luke’s Behavioral Health Center connect behavioral changes and mental health concerns
June 19, 2012
Remember the joy of going to a baseball game or running down the blacktop, chasing after the familiar tones of an ice cream truck? There are certain things we experience growing up that seem timeless and innocent. But for some children, certain experiences can be overshadowed by mental illness. Bill Craig, LSW, department coordinator, social services and therapy at St. Luke’s Behavioral Health Center, estimates that 5 million children in the U.S. have some type of mental illness, many of which can be identified and treated as early as three years of age.
Mental health issues can be hereditary or caused by environmental factors, and can affect the way children think, act and feel. According to Lydia Cohan, M.D., child psychiatrist for St. Luke’s Behavioral Health Center, it is possible to notice body language, emotions and different behaviors based on chemical imbalances in the brain. These mental health disorders include anxiety, depression, eating behaviors, mood changes, attention-deficit/hyperactivity and disruptive behavior. Yet, according to the American Psychological Association, parents of young children are less likely to seek the attention for their children’s unique behaviors because it is expected that children will “grow-out” of their emotional tendencies.
For those parents who may find it difficult to determine where their children’s behavior falls within the realm of normal behavior, Craig suggests beginning with open communication. “There is no normal or typical behavior for kids, however parents should set a baseline for what’s normal for their children,” said Craig. “When speaking to children, know where they are developmentally and speak to them using their own words or language.”
“If there are sudden changes to a child’s normal behavior — for example, if his or her sleep pattern or appetite suddenly changes, or if a child suddenly has an exaggerated energy level, becomes lethargic or bounces between the two extremes — those signals may be cause for concern,” said Craig. “The biggest mistake a parent can make is to discount any action or act too late.”
It is also common for children to be negatively affected by economic stresses in the household, such as job loss and loss of benefits. “It is important to not make adult problems a child’s as well,” added Craig.
Contact a primary care physician or pediatrician when you first suspect a difference in your child to see if they need to seek further care. Facilities like St. Luke’s Behavioral Health Center specialize in adolescent mental health care and provide mental health assessments, and if necessary, treatment to help children reach their highest level of mental, social and spiritual well-being.