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Recognizing mental illness in kids is key

April 23, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
One in five kids suffer from a diagnosable mental illness, with only about 20 percent of those getting help. Early intervention is important to keep these kids on a healthy track.

Kyle Gatewood, 12, was diagnosed with eight mental health disorders, from ADHD to OCD.

"We're pretty sure at some point, there will be a diagnosis of bipolar disease as well," said mother Kiva Gatewood.

Kyle is one of 12 million kids in the U.S. with mental illness. Informative ads have recently been hitting the airwaves because according to Dr. Bela Sood, parents often have a hard time determining if their child's behavior is normal or something more serious.

Sood suggests knowing your child's developmental milestones: They should smile by two months, speak first words by a year and walk alone at 18 months. They should also be able to emotionally connect to adults by their first birthday and play with other kids by age 3. Aggression is also a cue.

"If that aggressive behavior continues on and it does not abate, then you really need to sit up and pay attention," Sood said.

Forty-four percent of mentally ill kids drop out of school. Seventy percent in the juvenile justice system have mental health issues.

The signs came early for Kyle. By the time he was 2, he was so aggressive, he had been kicked out of six daycares. That's when his mom first got help. She says without the help, her son might have been "in a locked facility permanently."

Instead, he's getting the help he needs at home.


Nearly five million U.S. children have some type of serious mental illness (one that significantly interferes with daily life).

TYPES OF MENTAL ILLNESS: Children can suffer from the following mental illnesses:

  • Anxiety disorders: Children respond to certain things or situations with fear and dread, as well as with physical signs of anxiety (nervousness), such as a rapid heartbeat and sweating.
  • Disruptive behavior disorders-Children with these disorders tend to defy rules and often are disruptive in structured environments, such as school.
  • Pervasive development disorders-Children with these disorders are confused in their thinking and generally have problems understanding the world around them.
  • Eating disorders-Eating disorders involve intense emotions and attitudes, as well as unusual behaviors, associated with weight and/or food.
  • Elimination disorders-These disorders affect behavior related to the elimination of body wastes.
  • Learning and communication disorders-Children with these disorders have problems storing and processing information, as well as relating their thoughts and ideas.
  • Affective (mood) disorders-These disorders involve persistent feelings of sadness and/or rapidly changing moods.
  • Schizophrenia-This is a serious disorder that involves distorted perceptions and thoughts.
  • Tic disorders-These disorders cause a person to perform repeated, sudden, involuntary and often meaningless movements and sounds, called tics.
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Children with ADHD generally have problems paying attention or concentrating, can't seem to follow directions, and are easily bored and/or frustrated with tasks. They also tend to move constantly and are impulsive (do not think before they act). (www.webmd.com)

SYMPTOMS: Symptoms vary depending on the type of mental illness, but some of the general symptoms include: Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol, changes in sleeping and/or eating habits, excessive complaints of physical ailments, defying authority, skipping school, stealing or damaging property; and changes in school performance, such as poor grades despite good efforts. (www.medicinenet.com)

LATEST BREAKTHROUGH: Researchers are looking at childhood development in terms of what is normal and abnormal, trying to understand how factors affecting development can have an impact on mental health. The goal is to try to predict, and ultimately, prevent, developmental problems that could lead to mental illness. A key part of this research is the identification of risk factors -- factors that increase a child's chances of developing a mental disorder. In addition, the mental health community is calling for additional research on medications used to treat children with mental disorders. (www.medicinenet.com)

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