Are you perplexed by why your normally happy and sociable child has become withdrawn; lashing out at the slightest annoyance; or has an intense fear of weight gain? Like adults, children are also susceptible to mental health issues—but it may not always be noticed, as their symptoms can be different.

What are mental health problems? They involve serious changes in how your child learns, behaves, or handles her/his emotions. This can cause your child distress and make it challenging for him or her to get through each day. Some common mental health issues for children and teens include, but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention deficit disorder (ADD)
  • Depression and other mood disorders
  • Schizophrenia

While not every behaviour problem is serious, they could potentially be due to an underlying mental health condition. Here are some tips on what you should look out for:

Mood changes

One tell-tale sign that something is wrong is when you observe extreme changes in feelings. For example, they are easily irritable or argumentative. They may occasionally seem withdrawn, with feelings of hopelessness, anger or sadness. They may also blame others when things go wrong or seem very worried, unhappy or guilty.

Behaving differently

They may also have unexpected behaviour changes. For instance, they could be spending a lot of time daydreaming, or have trouble sleeping, or eating a lot less. They could be withdrawing from friends, sports and games, or seem quieter than usual. If your child loses interest in the things he/she usually enjoys doing—do take notice and quickly engage your child to find out why.

Unusual thoughts

Another telling sign is when your child has frequent negative thoughts, often says negative things or blames himself/herself or others for things beyond your child’s control.

If you do sense that something is amiss, talk to your child's teacher, close friends, other relatives or caregivers. Check to see if they too have seen changes in your child's behaviour. Then seek professional help, such as from the school counsellor, or your family doctor.

In the meantime, keep listening and asking your child how he or she is feeling, so that you can be there with a listening ear when he or she is ready to talk.