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What you need to know about children and mental health

Mental health is just as important as your physical health. This is because your state of mind relates to how you feel about yourself and how you relate to others. Your mental state affects your behaviour and decisions. Unfortunately, The South African Depression and Anxiety Group estimates that there are more than 17 million South Africans suffering from various mental health problems, like depression and anxiety, and many of these are children.

Bloom Financial Services, along with our health insurance partner, Momentum Health4Me, offer some insight about mental health problems and how these can affect children.

What is a mental health disorder?

A mental disorder, or mental illness, covers a range of conditions, like schizophrenia, eating disorders and depression, that have a negative impact on your emotions and behaviour. While many people may experience mental health challenges at some point in their life, a mental health disorder is classified as a persistent problem. This will have an adverse effect on your relationships, productive activities, and ability to cope with stress factors. What’s important to note is that mental illness is treatable. Many people who suffer from a mental health problem are able to manage their symptoms and lead productive lives.

Can children suffer from poor mental health?

Yes, children can develop a range of mental health problems or disorders. These could stem from biological vulnerabilities, severe psychological trauma (like the death of a parent) or an environmental stressor. Some of the more common mental health issues affecting children include:

  • Anxiety disorders. Smaller children often suffer from separation anxiety, which is quite normal, but as children get older some may experience severe anxiety in response to certain things or situations. This even manifests into physical symptoms, like vomiting, crying fits, inability to sleep or concentrate, or irritable outbursts.
  • Eating disorders. There are a number of different types of eating disorders that affect children. Problems like restrictive or aversion food disorder means that a child refuses to eat certain foods or has little interest in food altogether, while pica refers to a condition where a child may eat non-food or substances that have no nutritional value.
  • Elimination disorders. This happens when a child begins urinating or defecating in inappropriate places or times.
  • Mood disorders. Children can be affected by persistent feelings of sadness, irritability or constantly changing moods.
  • Although uncommon, childhood can develop schizophrenia, which is a mental disorder where a child may have an abnormal interpretation of reality, which can manifest in hallucinations, disordered thoughts and delusions.
  • Tic disorders. These are unwanted, repetitive and involuntary movements or sounds, like sniffing or eye blinking.
  • Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a common chronic condition that can persist into adulthood. It’s characterised by an inability to sustain attention and includes impulsive behaviour, which will affect a child’s ability to function properly.

What are the common warning signs to look out for in children?

Many children may experience behavioural or emotional instability, which doesn’t mean they have a mental disorder. However, should a child experience any of the following symptoms regularly and persistently, it’s advisable to speak to your local GP:

 

  • Feeling sad for longer than two weeks
  • Talking about self-harm or suicide
  • Avoiding or withdrawing from social activities or interaction
  • Hurting themselves or others
  • Extreme temper outbursts or irritability
  • Severe behaviour or personality changes
  • Loss of weight and/or appetite
  • Disrupted eating routine
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbance
  • Frequent stomach aches or other physical ailments
  • Difficulty concentrating and/or poor school performance
mom spending time with her daughter

What kind of treatment is available?

If diagnosed early and treated properly, many children with mental disorders are able to make a successful recovery or learn to manage their symptoms. Following a diagnosis made by a medical healthcare practitioner or an education professional, a course of treatment will be advised. This could include medication, like antidepressants or mood-stabilising drugs, therapy or counselling, which could take place with the family or interpersonally, or even something like creative therapies, which could involve art or play therapy.

How you can help with your child’s mental health?

Helping to build a strong and caring relationship with your child is one of the first steps in creating a safe and nurturing environment. If your child does suffer from mental illness or a particular disorder you can help them in their recovery or treatment by:

  • Assisting them develop their self-esteem
  • Showing love, support and acceptance
  • Praising them when they do well
  • Helping them set realistic goals
  • Listening to them and respecting their feelings
  • Keeping communication channels open
  • Encouraging them to share their thoughts
  • Teaching them how to relax or calm down when they feel upset

Will health insurance cover mental health treatment for a child?

Yes, the Health4me Titanium health insurance plans include cover for a  specialist visit, like a psychiatric consultation. Titanium members and their families may visit an approved psychiatrist from the Momentum CareCross Network. Do note however, that health insurance plans do not cover the cost of a psychologist consultation or sessions with a counselling therapist. These medical costs will need to be settled out of pocket.

How can I send my child to a psychiatrist?

You will need a GP referral in order to book an appointment with a psychiatrist. This falls into the specialist benefit. You will be limited to two visits of up to and not exceeding R1,000 per consultation each year. Any shortfalls will need to be covered by the member.

Takeaway

At Bloom, we encourage a healthy lifestyle that sustains good mental health. Children can be just as susceptible as adults when it comes to experiencing the distress brought upon by mental health problems. Support your child and seek treatment. Make sure your family is covered for chronic illness and specialist cover by contacting our team of trained consultants to get a quote for affordable health insurance.

Medical Content Disclaimer

You understand and acknowledge that all users of the Bloom Financial Services website are responsible for their own medical care, treatment, and oversight. All content provided on the website, is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Neither is it intended to be a substitute for an independent professional medical opinion, judgement, diagnosis or treatment.