Monitoring for Mental Illness in Children and Adolescents During the Summer Months
For most children and adolescents, the academic school year has ended and summer break has begun! While there are numerous activities children are engaged in during the summer months, such as camps, sports and community activities, many kids may not have access to these resources and are therefore limited in their social engagement. It’s important to be extra vigilant during summer months as some kids may experience increased symptoms of mental health illnesses, such as anxiety and depression. In the U.S. an estimated 2.9 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 suffered at least one depressive episode with severe impairment during the year of 2020, according to a survey conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health.
Some mental health disorders, such as depression, present themselves differently in children and adolescents than in adults. Children suffering from depressive symptoms can be perceived as being shy or quiet, or labeled as difficult when they are experiencing increased irritability. Due to the amount of time spent at school, many of these behaviors are often noticed by teachers, social workers and counselors in the school environment, which prompt referrals for evaluation and treatment.
During the summer months, parents and caregivers can help monitor for increased signs and symptoms of mental health disorders by noticing changes that may occur in their child’s behavior. Catching these symptoms early can help to make their summer a healthy and enjoyable time. Some of the key elements to look for include the following:
- Decreased interest in previously enjoyed activities (declining offers from friends or family members to engage in activities)
- Increased irritability (emotional dysregulation, anger outbursts)
- Sleeping and eating problems (sleeping more than normal, or difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, restricted eating or binge eating)
- Increased or excessive worrying, anxiousness or clinging behaviors (needing increased validation and reassurance, intense fear, complaints of dizziness, nausea, sweating and/or increased heart rate or palpitations)
- Poor hygiene (noticeable changes in routine such as grooming habits, personal hygiene care)
- Suicidal ideation or self-harming behaviors (statements to family or friends of being better off without them, self-critical statements, wearing long-sleeved or winter clothing during summer months possibly to hide evidence of self-harming behaviors)
Additional information about warning signs and symptoms of mental illness in children and adolescents can be found here.
If you feel your child is in immediate risk for harm, dial 988 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or take your child to your nearest emergency room to be evaluated by a professional. If you notice any signs, symptoms or changes in your child’s behavior that raise concern, please contact a mental health professional to schedule your child for an evaluation and treatment if indicated.
MiraCare can also help parents and their children address concerns or a mental health crisis with short, safe and healing treatment. Learn more about our Inpatient Hospital Care, Partial Hospitalization Program and Outpatient Services or call us for help at 708.726.MIRA.
Irene Stewart, Psy.D. of MiraCare Group
Clinical Psychology Postdoctoral Fellow