Super mom and dad come to the rescue when a tyke falls from a swing or bike. But mental health disorders are much tougher to detect than a scraped knee or broken arm. More than a quick Band-Aid or trip to the emergency, recognizing a child suffering from mental illness means monitoring certain warning signs. Two local docs point out the red flags that might signify something serious.
Change In Interests
Little League isn’t for everyone. Children’s interests evolve as they grow, and your Frankie Lindor might really be a Picasso. What’s worrisome is when your child completely disengages from a school-related or extracurricular activity and doesn’t replace it with another interest or hobby. “If they’re spending more time on their own, that’s a warning sign,” says Dr. Stephen Sondike, division director of adolescent medicine at Akron Children’s Hospital. “What is not normal is for an adolescent to completely disengage from peers as well as from family.”
It’s typical teenage behavior to be secretive and want to do things on their own — that’s their way of creating independence, not a sign of depression. But if your child starts becoming increasingly irritable and has trouble controlling his or her emotions, pay attention. “As we take a closer look, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong,” says Dr. Laura Rocker, a psychiatrist in Shaker Heights, “but it certainly means that it’s time to have a talk — either to a pediatrician or a therapist. Or make an appointment with a psychiatrist.”
Putting Themselves In Danger
Without enough life experience or cognitive understanding, it’s easier for adolescents to take risks — think drugs, alcohol and even cutting. “When they do something risky or something aggressive, it may release some of that anxiety and mood issues,” says Sondike. He suggests watching out for unexplained cuts and scratches or teenagers who walk around with long sleeves in the summer. “They know it makes them feel better, but they can’t really explain why it makes them feel better,” he says.