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As a parent, you know your child better than anyone else. If your child starts to exhibit concerning behaviors, or if you suspect that they are struggling with a mental health problem, it’s important to know the facts. Debunking myths about child mental health is critical to getting more children the help and understanding they need and deserve. Below we shed some light to separate the myths from the facts.
REALITY: 1 in 6 Children aged 2-8 years has a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder.
REALITY: Although a child’s home environment and relationships with parents can exacerbate mental illness, these factors do not cause mental disorders. Mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, autism, and learning disorders are biological causes.
REALITY: Children and adolescents are less likely to “grow out” of mental disorders than they are to “grow into” more debilitating conditions. Most mental health problems left untreated in childhood become more difficult to treat in adulthood. Because of this, it is imperative to screen young people for emotional and behavioral problems. We can then coordinate interventions while a child’s brain is most responsive to change and treatment is more likely to be successful.
REALITY: While there is some crossover between symptoms of mental health disorders and the stages of pre-adult development, a parent should not assume that “moodiness” or other signs of distress are normal. Mood, anxiety and attention-related disorders can affect children (just as they do adults), and the symptoms can be severe.
REALITY: It can be difficult to separate the symptoms of a child’s mental health disorder — impulsive behavior, aggressiveness, or extreme anxiety, for example — from a child’s character. But a mental health disorder is an illness, just like diabetes or leukemia, and not a personality type. We shouldn’t expect children to have the tools to overcome these challenges on their own. The sooner a child’s struggles are recognized, properly diagnosed and treated, the better their chance of managing or overcoming symptoms, and developing into a healthy adult.
REALITY: The most effective evidence-based treatment programs for children and adolescents is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on changing the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are causing problems. Medication can be effective in collaboration with CBT.