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How Is Mental Illness in Children Diagnosed

According to the surgeon general, approximately one out of every five children has a diagnosable mental illness.


Children, however, are developing mentally and physically, and their behaviour may be difficult to analyse.  Actions such as anxiety, anger, and shyness can be a part of developmental growth or a temporary condition rather than an illness.


When troubling behaviours occur over a period of time or in a way that disrupts daily life, they are considered symptoms of a disorder.


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 behaviour, 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 behaviour 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 behaviours, such as anxiety and bedwetting.

The following disorders are common in childhood:


• Anxiety

• 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.

Please see our list of
psychologist and Psychiatrist and arrange for a visit if necessary.

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