Scientists in the US have carried out a study on almost 100 children’s brains and they claim that warning signs could predict future problems.
The 94 children were scanned using the MRI scan when they were all seven years old as stated in the published journal JAMA Psychiatry.
The experts from Northeastern University in Boston claim the results showed their brains had lower blood flow between the parts that control mood and decision-making.
The same 97 children four years later had a behavioral assessment and they showed signs of depression. This prompted the researchers to interview the children’s parents to try and determine the cause.
They looked at the ‘internalizing’ behaviors, these being withdrawing from friends and family, displaying signs of anxiety and physical symptoms such as extreme fatigue.
One in five children were found to have their depressive symptoms worsen over the four-year period from when they were scanned.
The study found that 113,000 children in England UK had problems with their mental health by the time they started school, which is indeed alarming to see.
Detecting mental health problems is not always easy in an adult, let alone a child who may have trouble expressing themselves or even understanding that they are exercising mental health problems already.
In most cases, symptoms such as anxiety and not being willing to enjoy certain aspects of life don’t normally show up until the teen years.
Based on the findings of the study here are some early warning signs that the experts shared.
A bad mood that won’t go away
A child suffering from mental health problems will appear constantly down, sad and unable to share or understand why. Nothing will lift their mood and even a family event that the past has made them happy, for example, a birthday can cause extreme anxiety in the child to the point of fear.
Tearful or emotional outbursts
Look out for extreme anger and emotional outbursts. This is different from a child throwing a temper tantrum for not getting their own way. This deep-rooted anger that explodes without warning and will leave your child bewildered as you yourself will be and they will feel scared and alone, even if you are there with them.
Lack of interest in fun things they used to love
Something they once enjoyed doing and perhaps sharing with you will be of no interest to them anymore. If they had a hobby that they suddenly with no warning stop and if you try to encourage them to continue will just be met with disinterest.
Feeling tired all the time
When depressed it is hard to relax, what appears to be your child just chilling in front of the TV, could be lethargy and this is a major sign that all is not well with your child along with irritability and grumpy moods.
Eating less or binge eating
A sudden change in your child’s eating habits can be a sign of mental health problems. This can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches. It is worth noting that this could also be a control mechanism for your child, as they can’t control what they are feeling but they can control what they eat.
Problems sleeping happens to everyone, but when it becomes persistent that is when the signs point to possible depression and anxiety. They either sleep too much or not enough and no matter how much sleep they do have they will still be tired and listless.
Lack of concentration
At school, your child’s teacher will perhaps notice a difference in your child such as they find it hard to concentrate or they are unwilling to listen and learn, they could also suddenly become disruptive, these will be red flags to the teacher and they will no doubt contact you for a parent/teacher conference.
Things that increase the risk of a mental illness such as anxiety or depression in children include:
physical, emotional or sexual abuse
a family history of depression or other mental health problems
Sometimes it is triggered by one difficult event, such as parents separating, a bereavement or problems with school or other children.
Often, it’s caused by a mixture of things. For example, your child may have inherited a tendency to depression and also have experienced some difficult life events.
If your child starts to talk about themselves as worthless, useless at things this is a sign they have lost confidence in themselves and is linked to mental illness, it is often heard after your child has perhaps been bullied and they are left feeling empty and numb, unable to feel their emotions or under why they feel like this.
Having suicidal thoughts
Yes, young children do have these thoughts when they feel life is too much to bear. They may begin by self-harming, cutting their skin, this is now at crisis point and they may believe death is the only answer. If you notice that your child is covering up and its 70 degrees outside it could be that they are hiding their skin from you.
Creating a safe and welcoming environment is an important part of addressing your child’s mental health problems.
set aside uninterrupted time with your child
create a safe place for them to talk
let them know that you are always there for them
let them know that they can talk about anything they are feeling
if they don’t want to talk straight away don’t push them
use gentle language like “I’ve noticed you have been sad lately; I am always here if you want to talk”
do not make it an inquisition by asking lots of questions like “why are you sad?” and “what is going on?”
encourage them to speak to a friend or teacher if they don’t feel comfortable talking to you
“Feeling down or anxious is often really normal for children and it can be quite worrying for parents to see that.
“But there is often a real tipping point for parents when that anxiety, that feeling low and feeling sad starts to take over your child’s life and that’s when you need to be seeking help.”
Alana Ryan, Senior Policy Officer at the NSPCC, said: “When a generation of children is struggling with their mental health with many having self-harmed or attempted suicide, we are fundamentally failing our young people.
“Our own research shows even if children are referred for specialist mental health treatment there is a slim chance, they will receive it, which is totally unacceptable.”
It’s important to get help early if you think your child may have a mental disorder or is depressed.
The longer it goes on, the more likely it is to disrupt your child’s life and turn into a long-term problem.