Everyone knows that like adults, children can have poor health and get sick. Both groups can also suffer from the same mental health issues as well. Children of all ages can experience mental illness, from anxiety to severe depression. Although children need treatment just like adults do, the way a child is treated can be quite different. Dr. Ndukwe Uduma, psychiatrist at UT Health East Texas Behavioral Health Center, treats children and shares below how children are uniquely treated and how caregivers can help their child.
Obstacles in Treatment
There are differences between adults and children when it comes to both diagnosis and treatment for a mental illness. While both can be diagnosed with the same disorder, how a physician comes to this conclusion and how it is approached can be very different for these two groups. “The way an issue presents in children is different from the way adults present,” says Dr. Uduma. For example, refusing to do as told could be a warning sign for a child, when it wouldn’t apply to an adult.
Another difficulty lies in how children become patients and who is involved in their care. “Children are non-consenting patients, so their parents and caregivers give the consent and they tell the story,” says Dr. Uduma. “The parents and caregivers are intricately involved in their treatment.” He says this requirement can make it difficult to treat a child. “For everything you do, you need consent from a caregiver,” says Dr. Uduma. “Children and adolescents are products of their environment, so if the home situation is problematic it will reflect in the child's problems.”
Be the Support System
The good news for children is that they have caregivers that can detect changes in mood and behavior and then seek help. Both caregivers at home and teachers at school can be the ones to spot warning signs in children. Since they are around the children every day, a change can be fairly noticeable.
Dr. Uduma advises caregivers at home to communicate often and consistently with children. “One way to foster positive mental health is by having good communication with your kid. Know how the kid's day is going,” shares Dr. Uduma. “When a kid comes home from school, you look at his/her face and you can see if it's been a stressful day and you ask ‘How was your day?’ As time goes on, they know you will ask and they are eager to tell you. You must listen and pay attention. If children know that parents are listening, they are more likely to say what is going on.” Another way of checking in on your child is to simply pay attention.
“Observe and you will detect when things change. When kids, depending on their age, become socially isolated, it’s a warning sign. That tells you something is not right. School performance can also tell you when something is not right. If a kid that is an A student all of a sudden is struggling with Cs, then something is wrong.”
Of course, social media is a big part of a child’s life, which can be both useful and damaging. Dr. Uduma explains the intense need children, especially teens, have to be on social media. “They are trying to establish autonomy and independence and find themselves and discover their personality. Their friends’ opinions and judgement means so much to them.” However, it can also give parents a peek into their child’s mood and behaviors if they have access to these accounts. Seeing what a child posts can go beyond what they report to a parent.
Make a Difference
It can seem overwhelming for caregivers and parents to address mental health issues in their child, but seeking help early can make all the difference. “Most problems can be treated,” says Dr. Uduma. “Children do respond to treatments and they get better. If you see something that you are not comfortable with or something unusual with your child, seek treatment. Treatment can be effective and it can change the trajectory of a child's life.”
It can at times be difficult to find the right resources for help. A good place to start can be with a pediatrician or primary care provider. If you need to find a primary care physician, please call 903-596-DOCS.
Dr. Ndukwe Uduma is a board-certified psychiatrist at UT Health East Texas Behavioral Health Center. Dr. Uduma treats both adult and child/adolescent patients.