Mental health disorders can begin in very early childhood – even infancy. Most young children haven’t learned how to talk about their thoughts and feelings, but we can observe their behaviors.
This is critical because even serious mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, OCD, and depression can be present in very young children causing them to struggle or fail in school and have poor lifelong outcomes if they are not diagnosed and treated.
SIGNS / SYMPTOMS IN INFANCY AND TODDLERHOOD
- Extreme separation anxiety
- Complete lack of separation distress
- Prolonged crying – other than colic
- Difficulty self-soothing
- Constant thumb sucking
- Oversensitivity to sound, smell, touch, or taste
- Prolonged poor or irregular sleep or eating
- Lack of weight gain/failure to thrive
- Failure to meet developmental milestones as expected
- Inability to potty train
“Temperament Is Your Baby’s Behavioural Style Which Determines How He/She Reacts To Situations And Expresses And Regulates Emotions. Characteristics Of Temperament Include Activity Level, Distractibility, Adaptability, Sensitivity And Quality Of Mood.”
From About Kids Health
Having a difficult temperament predisposes children and adults to mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression, beginning as young as preschool age. Temperament characteristics are relatively stable over a lifetime, however, they can be influenced by the environment such that characteristics will become more or less pronounced. A “difficult” temperament is defined by the following characteristics. No one characteristic alone is a sign of a difficult temperament, just as no one sign means a child will develop a mental health disorder.
SIGNS OF DIFFICULT TEMPERAMENT
- Frequent negative mood
- Withdrawing from new situations/experiences
- Slow to adapt
- High intensity of reactions
- Low rhythmicity of physical states, which should cycle reasonably easily between deep sleep; light sleep; drowsiness; quiet and alert; active and alert; and crying.
BELIEVE THE CHILDREN
Very young children can suffer from a diagnosalbe serious mental illness when they are very young. For example, pediatric bipolar disorder can be diagnosed as young as 3 years old. So, it’s incredibly important to pay attention to signs that may mean a child is suffering.
When I was a third-grade Girl Scout leader, one of the girls came to me after a meeting and told me she wanted to die. She told me she had a plan. She’d sit on the steps leading out of the school and be trampled to death by the students as they left. Because of my experience with mental health disorders, I understood I needed to believe this child was in pain and needed help. I told her I heard how sad she was and that I would help her talk to her parents. After we did so, her parents took action.