11 Signs of a Psychiatric Disorder
New list aims to help identify problems earlier
Clinical Expert: Peter Jensen, MD
What You'll Learn
- How can you tell if your child might have a mental health disorder?
- What are the differences between normal challenges and mental health disorders?
It can be hard to tell when your child’s emotions or behavior are something to worry about. After all, every kid gets moody or misbehaves sometimes.
Mental health experts have put together a list of signs that your child might be dealing with a mental health disorder. If you notice any of them in your child, consider getting help from a mental health professional.
Big changes in your child’s mood or personality are one common sign. So are frequent mood swings that get in the way of the child’s daily life. Extreme worry, fear or sadness that last for at least two weeks are signs of a possible mental health disorder. Parents should also look out for fear that shows up suddenly along with physical signs like a racing heart, which could be a panic attack.
Behavior can also signal mental health problems. Look out for extreme out-of-control behavior, getting into lots of fights, or doing things that could hurt themselves or others. Using drugs or alcohol a lot is a cause for concern too.
Having a lot of trouble concentrating or holding still can be signs of ADHD or another disorder. Not eating or throwing up on purpose are common signs of eating disorders.
Finally, it’s important to get help if your child tries to harm or kill themselves, or even talks about doing so. Suicide is a big risk among kids with mental health disorders, and parents can do a lot to keep kids safe.
A group of mental health experts from around the country, alarmed at the number of children struggling with undiagnosed psychiatric disorders, has formulated a list of 11 simple signs that a child might have a mental illness.
The goal is to make it easier for parents, teachers, pediatricians, and others who work with children to know when they should take steps to get care for a child or adolescent. The list aims to help separate warning signs of illness from typical moodiness and occasional disruptive behavior like defiance, aggression, and impulsivity.
The warning signs for psychiatric illness are often differentiated from behavior that’s not problematic by how long the behavior lasts, whether it impacts a child’s functioning, or whether it affects other people.
The group, led by Mayo Clinic psychiatrist Peter Jensen, MD, interviewed some 6,000 families to hone the language that would be most helpful to parents. The list was tested against children with diagnosed psychiatric disorders, to see if it would have predicted their conditions. Two federal agencies, Center for Mental Health Services and National Institute of Mental Health, funded the project. Dr. Jensen is the president of the Resource for Advancing Children’s Health, the group that undertook the project.
Here are the 11 warning signs parents should watch for:
- Feeling very sad or withdrawn for two or more weeks
- Seriously trying to harm or kill themselves, or making plans to do so
- Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing
- Involved in multiple fights, using a weapon, or wanting badly to hurt others
- Severe, out-of-control behavior that can hurt themselves or others
- Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to make themselves lose weight
- Intensive worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities
- Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still that puts them in physical danger or causes school failure
- Repeated use of drugs or alcohol
- Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
- Drastic changes in their behavior or personality