Health & Wellness

Guest Column

Mental Illness in Children

Maria Sikoutris-Di Iorio, Hellenic Therapy Center

Living with a child who has mental illness can be one of the most challenging life experiences for a parent.  No parent wants to acknowledge or accept that their child may have a mental illness. We may dismiss some of the warning signs and believe that their acting out is more of a behavioral issue than an illness. You might reason that every child displays childhood behavioral issues. However, if the behavior begins to affect their daily life and interrupt their socializing, academics and regular routine, it might be time to consider an evaluation by a licensed mental health professional.

Some of the warning signs include:

  • Mood changes
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Self harm
  • Behavior changes – disobedience or aggression
  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Change in sleep patterns and activities
  • Excessive Worry or anxiety
  • Frequent nightmares

If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, schedule an appointment with your child’s teachers and ask if they have noticed any changes in your child’s behavior.  Speak with caregivers, friends and family regarding your concerns. Mental health conditions in children are diagnosed and treated based on signs and symptoms and how the condition affects the child’s daily routine. Exploring family history and family of origin can be most helpful in determining if other family members have been affected by mental illness.  It could be that grandma had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and it’s been passed down from one generation to the next.  A genogram is a great tool in determining the family history.

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Coping with mental illness especially when it affects our own family can be a devastating experience.  Educating ourselves is key in knowing how to cope. Many parents become frustrated, angry and experience feelings of helplessness. Feeling sorry for your child will not help them or you because eventually it becomes a disciplining issue. The child develops a sense of entitlement and we are now faced with mental illness and behavioral issues. Sometimes, it is difficult to differentiate between the two. Living with mental illness requires setting clear boundaries and being aware of over-compensating behaviors on our part because we feel bad for our child. Of course we take their illness personally and may accommodate them more than other siblings causing sibling rivalry and tension within the family. As difficult as it may be, it is important not to personalize the mental illness and identify it as something separate from your child. Taking to heart your child’s acting out and hurtful statements can be very painful for parents and may be a result of their mental illness and not who they really are or feel about you. Labeling it as such can be beneficial for everyone in the family system.

At The Hellenic Therapy Center, 567 Park Avenue, Scotch Plains, NJ, we have a team of licensed professionals who can help you navigate through this difficult time.  Please call us at 908-322-0112 or visit us at  We are available day, evening and weekend hours.


The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer. Click here to submit a Guest Column.

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