Mental health disorders are becoming increasingly common in both children and teenagers. Factors such as stress at home or school, losing a loved one, and bullying can lead to serious problems, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and self-harm.
It is believed that half of all mental health disorders start by age 14 and often go undetected and untreated. If left untreated, mental health conditions in children and teens can have serious consequences, leading to emotional, functional, and physical problems in life.
Bullying and Mental Health
The harmful effects of bullying are becoming increasingly recognized. Bullying can lead to poor mental health, such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, social isolation, and body dissatisfaction. Bullying has also been found to directly contribute to the development of eating disorders, with as many as 65% of people with eating disorders saying bullying was a contributing factor to their condition.
Children of a higher weight are more likely to be teased and bullied than their slimmer peers, and 40% of these children are directly teased about their weight by peers or family members. Weight-based victimization and shaming can lead to eating disorders, including binge-eating, weight gain, or extreme weight control measures.
Eating disorders are serious but treatable mental and physical illnesses. They involve persistent negative eating habits and the control of food to cope with feelings and certain situations. Eating disorders can have a detrimental impact on overall physical and emotional health and can affect a person’s ability to function properly in important areas of life. Often, eating disorders begin during adolescence, but they are becoming increasingly common in younger children. There are many different types of eating disorders, but the most common types include:
Anorexia nervosa is defined as the persistent restriction of food/energy intake to control body weight. A person with the disorder typically has a severely distorted body image and an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat. They often carry out unhealthy behaviors such as exercising excessively to prevent weight gain.
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that involves recurrent and frequent episodes of binge eating (often large quantities of food) and then taking drastic compensatory action to prevent weight gain. Such as purging (self-induced vomiting), excessive exercise, fasting, or taking laxatives/diuretics. People with this eating disorder often have a severely distorted body image and an intense fear of gaining weight.
Binge-Eating Disorder (BED)
People with binge-eating disorder regularly binge-eat but do not use compensatory behaviors as in bulimia nervosa. Binge eating episodes can involve eating alone or in secret, eating more rapidly than normal, eating when not hungry, eating large portions of food over a short period, and eating until uncomfortably full. The disorder is often associated with feelings of disgust with oneself, shame, guilt, and/or depression. A binge-eating disorder may lead to significant weight gain.
Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder is more common in children. It involves the avoidance of food based on factors, such as smell, texture, fear of choking, or persistent feelings of low mood or anxiety, that interfere with eating. Persistent failure to meet appropriate nutritional needs can lead to malnutrition and other health problems.
Common Signs of An Eating Disorder
Signs and symptoms of an eating disorder vary depending on the type of disorder. Early signs may indicate unhealthy behaviors, such as displaying unhealthy attitudes or concerns around body size, shape, weight, or food. Signs your child might have an eating disorder include:
- Unusual behavior around food, such as cutting food into tiny pieces
- Increase in physical activity
- Unusual weight changes
- Avoidance of family meals or wanting to eat alone
- Missing food in the home or finding food hidden in their room
- Wearing baggy clothes
- Obvious mood changes or changes in demeanor such as being withdrawn and irritable
- Vomiting/going to the bathroom immediately after eating
- Unusual interest in cooking meals
- Frequent health problems, such as digestive or dental problems
- Social isolation
When To Seek Help
Good mental health during childhood and adolescence allows your child to reach emotional and developmental milestones including resilience and learning to manage their emotions effectively. Mental health disorders can have a detrimental effect on many areas of life, and if left untreated, may impact their potential to thrive as they move forward into adulthood. If you have concerns about your child’s mental well-being, you should:
- Try to talk to them directly in a compassionate and non-confrontational way about your concerns
- Get advice from your doctor or pediatrician
- Discuss your concerns with a specialist child/adolescent mental health team
Early intervention is crucial for your child’s ongoing well-being and for their physical and mental health in adulthood. If you suspect an eating disorder, the sooner the eating behaviors are addressed, the more likely there is to be a positive outcome.
Treatment For Mental Health Disorders in Children
Treatment for mental health disorders varies depending on the type of disorder and severity of symptoms, but treatments such as talk therapy, medication, and family counseling can often work effectively. Overcoming a mental health condition, such as an eating disorder can take time, and there may be ups and downs along the way, particularly if your child has had the condition for a while. Ongoing provision from appropriate professionals along with supportive environments within the family, at school, and in the wider community, are important ways to promote your child’s psychological well-being and recovery.
Mental Health Care for Kids and Teens in Purchase, NY
If you have concerns about your child’s mental health, speak to the pediatric team at Westchester Park Pediatrics. Our experienced and knowledgeable staff specialize in pediatric and adolescent medicine. We provide comprehensive pediatric care in a warm and caring environment that aims to put your child first.
To find out more about our comprehensive pediatric mental health services or to schedule an appointment, please call us at 914-761-1717.