What to Watch – When to Worry

Mental illnesses are common in children and youth.

One in five kids will experience a diagnosable emotional or behavioral problem before they become adults. What to Watch lists common warning signs of impending mental illness. The symptoms to watch are experienced now and then by most children. When to Worry outlines factors that suggest that professional help may be needed. Treatment, when an emotional or behavioral condition is mildly problematic, can offset increasing severity or possible crisis situations.

What to Watch For

  • A sudden or unusual change in behavior or mood
  • Frequent whining, crying, complaining
  • Extreme sensitivity or shyness; an almost paralyzing fear of rejection
  • Moodiness, sullen irritability, inappropriate and frequent anger or rage
  • Prolonged periods of sadness, feeling empty, hopelessness
  • A sudden drop in grades or in the quality of schoolwork
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in things previously enjoyed
  • Withdrawal or isolation from others
  • Significant weight gain or loss
  • Unnecessary anxiety, tension, high stress, low tolerance for frustration
  • Continual fatigue; drowsiness, inability to fall asleep or stay asleep
  • Difficulty concentrating – delayed responses
  • Overactivity, increased physical agitation
  • Forgetfulness, confusion, doing the wrong assignments, missing parts on tests
  • Unusual interest or pleasure in violence, threats, or bullying
  • Self-destructive behaviors: recklessness, substance abuse, self-injury, eating disorders
  • Running Away
  • Minor, vague physical complaints: headaches, stomach aches, fainting, nausea
  • Prolonged or repeated interest in death, morbidity, or suicide

When to worry

All parents might see any of these symptoms in their children on occasion. It is time to seek professional help when:

  • Symptoms appear in clusters
  • Over a long period of time
  • They are interfering with the child’s ability to function
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