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Pediatric Mental Health

Pediatric Mental Health, Pediatric mental illness, Juvenile Mental Health Conditions

The number of children and adolescents struggling with mental illness has been steadily increasing since before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite how commonly they occur, mental health conditions in children and adolescents are often undiagnosed for years because parents either don’t know the signs or dismiss symptoms as “just a phase.” At Carolina Dunes Behavioral Health in Leland, North Carolina, we want to give caregivers the tools to recognize if the young people in their lives are having difficulty with their mental health.

North Carolina’s Staggering Numbers

Pediatric mental health is a concern across the country, including in North Carolina:

Common Juvenile Mental Health Conditions 

While young people can experience many of the same mental health conditions as adults, certain diagnoses are more common in young people. These include:

  • Anxiety disorders – Indications that a child is suffering from anxiety include being overly worried or stressed to the point that a child’s school, social, and/or family life are disrupted.
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – Characterized by difficulty paying attention, careless mistakes, impulsive behavior, disorganization, and/or being too active, this condition presents more commonly as the disruptive type in boys and the inattentive type in girls. Because more people are familiar with the disruptive symptoms, it is more likely to be detected and treated than the inattentive type.
  • Eating disorders – This category of mental health concerns centers around unhealthy focus on body type, disordered thinking about weight management and food intake, and unsafe habits around food. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder are some examples of eating disorders that can become life-threatening.
  • Depression/mood disorders – Young people may experience lasting feelings of sadness and irritability and lose interest in activities they previously enjoyed. Sometimes, young people also experience these depressive episodes interspersed with intense highs, when they may exhibit impulsive and risky behaviors. This can be indicative of bipolar disorder.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – any person, of any age, who experiences a horrifying, dangerous, or worrisome event that overwhelms their ability to cope is a trauma survivor. Not all people who live through trauma will develop PTSD, but the more trauma a person witnesses and the less support they have to deal with it, the more likely they are to develop PTSD.
  • Schizophrenia – It is not common for young children to experience this condition, but the onset for this diagnosis is typically late teens and early 20s for males. In females, the onset is usually a bit older. Symptoms vary from person to person but commonly include delusions, hallucinations, and other types of psychosis.

Common Red Flags

A caregiver doesn’t need to know what mental health condition they think their child is experiencing. If your child doesn’t seem like themselves, it may be time to get them some added support. Some of the red flags you might notice include:

  • Frequent tantrums or irritability
  • High amounts of worry, fear, or stress
  • Inability to sit still
  • Changes in sleep, increased nightmares, or fatigue
  • Problems at school
  • Seeming obsessed with their diet or exercise, refusing to eat, or eating a lot at once
  • Making odd statements about people trying to control them or being able to see/hear things that other people cannot

How Children Are Diagnosed

If you are concerned that your child is suffering from a mental health condition, a good first step is to talk to their primary care doctor, who can rule out physical causes for the issue and make a referral for mental health services if needed. Some of the steps that are generally taken to assess for mental health diagnoses include:

  • A complete physical health examination and personal/family medical history
  • Discussion of trauma
  • Timeline of symptoms and treatments thus far
  • Review of academic history
  • Conversations with parents and the child
  • Mental health tests/questionnaires with the child and caregivers

Treatment Options

Depending on what mental health condition a child is experiencing, the treatment available may include some combination of the options below:

  • Individual therapy 
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Medication
  • Support for parents

The Cost of Delayed Treatment

Delayed diagnosis can mean that young people suffer from mental illness longer than necessary and experience many avoidable secondary issues:

  • Worsening mental health over time
  • Physical health concerns
  • Financial difficulties
  • Lack of job stability
  • Incarceration
  • Suicide

At Carolina Dunes Behavioral Health, we provide individualized long-term treatment for youth who are experiencing ongoing behavioral, emotional, or psychiatric challenges. We help our patients and their families learn how to navigate their diagnoses and enter recovery.

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About programs offered at Carolina Dunes Behavioral Health

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