All of us, even those not gifted with empathic qualities, are sure to melt when we see a child suffering from leukemia. We shed tears when talking to a mom whose daughter is debilitated with pain from chemotherapy. But a child suffering from the misfortunes of a psychiatric or behavioral health problem is vaguely seen on the outside. A lot of kids and teenagers who are emotionally hurt keep the pain to themselves. Others show their feelings in unpleasant or violent ways. And mostly because of stigma – shame, lack of knowledge, humiliation, and misconception about psychiatric problems – most of these children never get medical care.
Nearly one in five children is affected with an emotional or behavioral disorder. You may recognize that something is not right, but what it is or what to do remains a mystery. — Susan Newman Ph.D.
People who are concerned about these problems (like you and me) need to discredit some myths about child behavioral health. This is crucial in getting help and understanding for more children because they deserve it.
Myth #1. Bad parenting causes psychiatric disorders.
A child’s school and home atmosphere and his bond with his parents can aggravate a psychiatric disorder; these factors do not primarily result in the psychiatric disorder itself. Depression, anxiety, and autism are believed to have been caused by biological factors. And although parenting is not to blame, parents do play a vital role in supporting and caring for their children to hasten their recovery.
Myth #2. Children diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder are marred for life.
A child’s potential for a budding future and a fulfilled life can be at risk when he is diagnosed with a debilitating psychiatric disorder. However, if his pains and struggles are acknowledged and treated earlier, then he will have a better opportunity of managing the symptoms and growing up into a healthy and resilient adult.
Myth #3. Children develop psychiatric problems because they are weak and scared of many things.
It’s not easy to distinguish the symptoms of your child’s psychiatric problem – his offensive behavior, hyperactivity, or severe anxiety, for instance – from his character. But a psychiatric disorder is a disease, like diabetes or neutropenia, and not the child’s personality. Parents and other family members should not assume that children already have built-in tools to help them overcome the challenges in their lives. However, they can indeed recover better and faster with the guidance and support of parents and significant others.
It would be silly to tell someone to just “buckle down” and “get over” cancer. The same applies to mental illness. — David Susman, Ph.D.
Myth #4. Any form of therapy for kids is useless.
Today, psychiatric disorders in children are not treated with just conventional talk therapy. Current treatment programs that have been studied and proven to be effective utilize cognitive behavioral therapy, which is geared towards eliminating a child’s negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that have caused him severe disabilities and issues. Many studies have shown that interventions started earlier, specifically at the time when the first symptoms appear, are more successful.
Myth #5. Children can cope with their psychiatric disorder if they are strong-willed.
Psychiatric disorders are not merely anxieties or mood swings. The anxiety is so strong, and the stress is severe, and this may affect almost all, if not all, aspects of their life. Children do not have sufficient skills and enough experiences to manage an illness as serious as clinical depression or ADHD. His healthcare team must create a proper treatment plan, which typically includes some form of behavioral therapy and learning ways to achieve happiness.
Myth #6. Most children are given too many medications.
People who are obliged to speak in public have complained about using prescription medicines in treating their children, which is the reason why many think that psychiatrists give medications to all their patients suffering from a psychiatric disorder. However, efficient and compassionate psychiatrists decide wisely before they begin a child on a treatment program that would include medication usually in conjunction with cognitive therapies. Psychiatric disorders are serious illnesses that need serious consideration as well.
Myth #7. Children outgrow their behavioral health problems.
Children have a lesser likelihood of outgrowing their psychiatric problems. Rather, they are more likely to grow into or develop incapacitating symptoms. Most often, when a child’s behavioral problems are not treated during childhood, these problems become more complicated and hard to treat in adulthood. Screening young individuals for behavioral problems before they turn 14 is very important. At the same time, initial interventions can be introduced slowly while their brains are most responsive to modifications and treatment plans.
If you are still having problems managing your child’s behavior or your child has recently become more fearful, angry, or aggressive, meeting with a psychotherapist may be helpful in order to explore the underlying reasons for the behaviors and to get your child back on track. — Wendy Salazar, MFT