Childhood and Adolescent Mental Health Disorders

Childhood and Adolescent Mental Health Disorders

Some of the most commonly diagnosed forms of mental health problems are:

Depression - lowers mood and can make a young person feel hopeless, worthless, unmotivated and exhausted. It can affect sleep, appetite and self-esteem. It can also interfere with daily activities and sometimes physical health. This may set off a vicious cycle because the worse a young person feels, the more depressed they are likely to get. Depression can be experienced at different levels, e.g. mild or severe and can be related to certain experiences. Depression is often associated with anxiety.

Anxiety - can mean constant and unrealistic worry about any aspect of daily life. It may cause restlessness, sleeping problems and possible physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, stomach upset, muscle tension or feeling shaky. If pupils are highly anxious they may also develop related problems such as panic attacks, a phobia or obsessive compulsive disorder.

Obsessive compulsive disorder - (OCD) has two main parts: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwelcome thoughts, ideas or urges that repeatedly appear in the mind; for example thinking that they have been contaminated by dirt or germs or worrying about not turning a light off, not locking a door etc. Compulsions are repetitive activities that young people feel they have to do. This could be something like repeatedly checking a door to check it is locked or repeatedly washing hands.

Phobias - a fear becomes a phobia when a young person has exaggerated or unrealistic sense of danger about a situation or object. They will often begin to organise their life around avoiding the thing that they fear. The symptoms of phobias are similar to anxiety and in severe forms they may experience panic attacks.

Bipolar Disorder (formerly known as manic depression) - if a young person has bipolar disorder they will experience swings in mood. During “manic” episodes they are likely to display overactive excited behaviour. At other times they may go through long periods of being very depressed. There are different types of bipolar disorder which depend on how often these swings in mood occur and how severe they are.

Schizophrenia is a controversial diagnosis. Symptoms may include confused or jumbled thoughts, hearing voices and seeing and believing things that other people don’t share. If a young person has these symptoms they may also become confused and withdrawn. There is a debate about whether schizophrenia is actually one condition or more a collection of symptoms that are not clearly related.

Personality disorders - generally speaking, personality doesn’t change very much. Yet it does develop as young people go through different experiences in life and as their circumstances change. If a young person has a personality disorder, they are likely to find it more difficult to change their patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. They may have a more limited range of emotions, attitudes and behaviours with which to cope with everyday life.

Eating disorders - can be characterised by eating too much or by eating too little. If a young person has an eating disorder they may deny themselves anything to eat, even when they are very hungry or they may eat constantly, or binge. The subject of food, and how much they weigh, is likely to be on their mind all of the time. Their eating disorder is likely to have developed as a result of deeper issues in their life and possibly a way of disguising emotional pain. Anorexia, bulimia, bingeing and compulsive eating are some of the most common eating disorders.

Common Behaviours

In addition to the more formal diagnoses above, there are some behaviours and feelings that are strongly associated with mental health problems.

Self-harm - is a way of expressing very deep distress. A young person may not know why they self-harm but it can be a means of communicating what they can’t put into words or even into thoughts and has been described as an “inner scream”. After self-harming, they may feel better able to cope with life again, for a while, but the cause of their distress is unlikely to have gone away. It is considered a maladaptive coping strategy.

Suicidal thoughts - it is common to have suicidal thoughts if a young person is experiencing mental health problems - especially if they have been diagnosed with depression, borderline personality disorder or schizophrenia. The deeper the depression, the more likely it is that a young person will consider killing themselves. However, they can help themselves or get help from other people. A great many people think about suicide, but the majority do not go on to kill themselves. A link to Papyrus, a charity involved with the prevention of young suicide is below.

Panic attacks - these are sudden, unexpected bouts of intense terror. If a young person experiences a panic attack, they may find it hard to breathe and feel their heart beating hard or fast. They may have a choking sensation, chest pain, begin to tremble or feel faint. It is easy to mistake these for signs of a heart attack or serious medical problem. Panic attacks can occur at any time and this is what distinguishes them from a natural response to real danger.

Mental Health:

Below are some useful websites. Alternatively you can:

  • Call NHS 111

  • Go to your nearest Accident and Emergency Department

  • Call the Mental Health Social Care and Assessment on 03330 322958