THE BLOG

Unmasking Mental Illness In Children

25/11/2016 15:46

A recent article on the BBC news brought to light the disturbing fact that millions of the £1.4 billion set to improve mental health provisions for children were not going to front line services, where they are so desperately needed. The situation is so severe that a quarter of children seeking treatment are simply turned away, there being insufficient staff and funding to assist them, with help only going to the most severe cases.

A great deal of the problems in this country's treatment of the mentally ill come down to insufficient funding. But it seems a greater injustice that children, too, are suffering.

Mental illnesses suffered by children often seem ignored. perhaps attributed to development problems. Indeed, it could be assumed that conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or even psychotic disorders can only occur post-adolescence but this simply isn't true. Even diagnostic manuals sometimes don't recognise such disorders and are in debate.
As such, children suffering mental health problems can be misdiagnosed, or insufficiently treated, assuming treatment is even sought, which, as the recent news mentioned above suggests, isn't always the case.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, 1 in 10 children suffer with some form of mental illness, with 70% of children of those not receiving the care they require, and thus their problems persist and complicate into adulthood.

One reason for this stark, and surprising failure to effectively treat children, is that mental illnesses suffered by pre-adolescents can have slightly different symptoms to their adult counterparts, for example, juvenile depression. The symptoms of juvenile depression can correlate with traditional pubescent behaviour, for example: low mood, lethargy, less enjoyment in previously enjoyable activities. All these are often perceived as typical teenage behaviour, yet could be signs of juvenile depression - signs that can be easily missed by parents, teachers, or even medical professionals.
Anxiety disorders, too, could be missed as simply shyness.

Childhood bipolar disorder also has slightly different symptoms to biopolar disorder in adults. In adulthood, its characterised by hypomanic, manic, depressive, or mixed episodes. Sufferers of childhood bipolar disorder tend to suffer more abrupt mood swings: hyperactivity (perhaps linking to later manic episodes) poor judgement, and constant speaking, therefore children with bipolar disorder could be easily misdiagnosed as suffering with ADHD.

It seems to me that the problem is manifold. There appears to be some key differences between mental illness in children and mental illnesses in adulthood, with the adult disorders more recognised and understood. As such, misunderstandings and misdiagnosis can be common. When problems are found and treatment is sought, then children can find there is insufficient care provision and may have to wait a long time to get help.
Mental help provision across the board is underfunded and understaffed, but this seems to be especially the case with regard to paediatric mental health care, therefore, the discovery that a good portion of the funding put aside to tackle childhood mental illnesses is not going to the right places is especially alarming. According to The Guardian, as little as £2 per child is spent on their mental health.

There is increased demand for mental health support, and this demand is simply not being met.
Clearly many, if not, all aspects of insufficient mental health care, relate to current problems with our underfunded and understaffed NHS and it is not my place to offer a solution for this but if this is not tackled head on, the next generation will be one caught up in a mental health epidemic.

Causes for mental often come down to problems faced by children in their lives, as you'd imagine death of a loved one, the breakdown of their family, and bullying, can all severely affect a child's state of mind. Even pressures faced at school can contribute. Realisation of the long lasting affects of the causes could go some way to avoid further mental illness.

But of course, there is always hope.

The charity Young Minds offers support and information for children suffering with mental health problems, parents, and professionals, as does Childline. Causes for childhood mental health problems (bullying in particular) are well understood and a wealth of support and provisions exist to help tackle this problem.

What there may need to be is a greater, wider understanding of how these causes affect the mental health of the children who suffer them. As, again, a great deal of childhood mental health problems are environmental rather than biological.

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