Most parents have the best interests of their children at heart. If fever spikes or an unexplained rash appears, you rush to the pediatrics’ office. Visible wounds are relatively easy to notice, but it’s different for mental illnesses. About one in five children suffer an emotional or behavioral disorder. Thankfully, there are ways to treat mental illnesses, but you have to recognize the signs first.


Why is it hard for parents to identify mental illnesses in children?


Most parents cannot tell when their children have mental disorders because they do not know the red flags. Even if they do, it’s hard to distinguish normal childhood behavior from these symptoms. Children may also lack the developmental ability and words to express what they feel.


Warning signs of mental illnesses in children


1. Intense feelings

Look out for feelings of crushing fear in your child. If your little one experiences fear to the extent that it interferes with their daily activities, it might be a indication of mental illness. Sometimes the fear is accompanied with fast breathing or a racing heart.


2. Mood changes

Beware of feelings of extreme sadness or withdrawal that last for more than two weeks. You may also notice severe mood swings that strain their relationships at school or within the family members.


3. Unable to concentrate

If your child has trouble focusing or staying still, he or she might perform poorly at school because they are unable to concentrate on their studies.


4. Physical symptoms

Just like in the case of adults, children who are battling mental illnesses might develop various health conditions like stomachaches and headaches.


5. Unexplained weight loss

If your little one loses his urge for eating without reason, starts vomiting or is using laxatives they might have an eating disorder, which is also a mental disorder.


6. Substance abuse

Some children use alcohol or drugs to suppress the feelings.


7. Physical Harm

Some mental health conditions prompt the patients to harm or injure themselves. They do this deliberately, probably as a way of dealing with the influx of emotions they cannot comprehend. If you notice burns or cut marks on your child’s body, they could be suffering from a mental health condition. One should act promptly before they get to the extent of being suicidal.


What should parents do when they notice these symptoms?

Talk to your child’s friends, teachers, classmates and loved ones. Inquire if they have seen similar symptoms or behaviors like those you are concerned about. Share this information with your child’s doctor.


Herrick Lipton is the CEO of New Horizon Counseling Center in New York and is also an advocate for mental health. For more information about Herrick or to get in  touch with New Horizon Counseling Center for resources, please visit or call 718-845-2620.