Mental health and your child
Children, from infants to adolescents, can be affected by mental health issues. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 10 – 20% of children and adolescents experience mental disorders worldwide.
Studies have found that in South Africa, HIV infection, substance use, and exposure to violence increased a child’s vulnerability to mental disorders. The mental health services children and adolescents receive play an important part in reducing the burden of mental disorders in childhood and later in adulthood.
Mental health disorders still have a stigma attached to it, although it’s treatable and in some cases, you can make a full recovery. People with mental disorders can live completely normal lives with treatment which may include medication and therapy. It’s important to take all medication as prescribed and not to stop treatment when you’re feeling better without consulting your healthcare provider.
There are a range of mental health issues and disorders that children can experience, including:
It’s normal for children to experience some worry and anxiety at some point, for example, before writing an exam, public speaking, etc. If your child displays excessive stress and worrying that may affect their ability to function normally, this may be an indication of an anxiety disorder. These are disorders that may include panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social phobia or generalised anxiety disorder.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
This is one of the more known childhood mental disorders. Symptoms in most cases include one or more of the following: hyperactivity, difficulty paying attention and impulsive behaviour.
Autism spectrum disorders
Autism is a developmental disorder that usually appears before age 3. Autism always affects the way a child interacts with others and their ability to communicate.
Schizophrenia often appears in late teens to early 20s and causes the person to lose touch with reality.
Depression causes someone to feel an intense sadness, feeling helpless, hopeless and worthless for an extended period. The person may lose interest in things they previously enjoyed, such as hobbies and social activities.
Bipolar disorder is marked by periods of elation (mania) which may cause the person to be out of touch with reality. This is usually followed by a period of depression and low energy. This mental disorder is characterised by severe or extreme mood swings.
There are 3 types of eating disorders, namely:
- Anorexia Nervosa: It’s an obsessive fear of weight gain. Sufferers will limit and restrict their intake of food. They view themselves as overweight even if this isn’t the case. Anorexia, if not treated, can lead to serious health issues such as infertility, bone loss, heart issues, etc. and in extreme cases, lead to death.
- Bulimia Nervosa: As with anorexia, those suffering from bulimia fears gaining weight and are unhappy with their body shape and size. Bulimia Nervosa is usually characterised by binge eating and purging. The person may eat normal to big meals and purge through vomiting, excessive exercising and taking large amounts of laxatives.
- Binge eating: Those suffering from binge eating often lose control of their eating habits. They don’t purge their food as with those suffering from bulimia. Most people who are binge eaters are overweight or obese and the resultant weight gain put them at risk of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.
Possible signs and symptoms of mental health disorders
Although it’s difficult for parents to identify mental disorders in their children, there are certain signs to look out for:
- Your child displays excessive stress and worrying that may affect their ability to function normally.
- Your child is extremely hyperactive, more so than other children their age.
- There are behavioural problems while in daycare or preschool.
- Your child displays extreme aggression and/or disobedience
- Some separation anxiety is normal but if this continues for a prolonged period this may indicate that there’s something else going on.
- Prolonged periods of sadness.
- Your child’s school performance suddenly decreases.
- Sudden changes in weight and worrying too much about gaining weight.
- Your child damages property, sets fires or shows other destructive behaviour.
- Withdraws from those closest to them such as family and friends.
- Threatens to run away from home or runs away from home.
- Self-harming such as cutting.
- Deliberately hurting or killing animals.
- Alcohol or drug abuse.
- Talking or writing about harming themselves or others.
- Hallucinations which includes seeing and hearing things that isn’t there.
How can I support my child?
There are steps you can take that can make a difference in the treatment and management of your child’s mental health:
- Get a professional diagnosis. The right help is essential in getting your child on their road to recovery or to successfully manage their disorder.
- Showing and expressing your love and support for your child.
- Speak to your child’s mental health practitioner on how to best support your child.
- Find out what’s the best way in which to deal with their difficult behaviour and how you can interact with your child in a positive and supportive way.
- As a family, you can attend support groups or family counselling.
- Inform your child’s teacher of your child’s mental health condition so that the school can offer support and an appropriate academic plan.
- Have fun with your child, spend quality time with them and praise them for positive behaviour and their abilities.
Where to get help
Red Cross Children’s Hospital has a special division that deals with child and adolescent psychiatry. Referrals to this service are done via community health clinics. Services offered are assessments, treatment (including individual, family and group therapy).
Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (DCAP)
46 Sawkins Road, Rondebosch
Tel: 021 685 4103
Fax: 021 685 4107
Mental health hospital services:
Provincial services for children are available at the following units:
- The Red Cross Child and Family Unit, offers an out-patient service for children with mental health difficulties. There's also a specialist in-patient service for children under 12. For more information call 021 685 4103.
- Tygerberg Child and Family Unit offers in- and out-patient care for children and adolescents. Call 021 938 4573 for more information.
- Lentegeur Child and Family Unit has an in- and out-patient service for children and adolescents. Call 021 370 1111.
Specialised in- and out-patient services for selected mental health disorders are also available at the University of Cape Town's Psychiatry Department, at Groote Schuur Hospital, Stellenbosch University's Psychiatric Department, and from Tygerberg Hospital.
For information on access to hospital services for adults and children living in the other regions contact:
- Boland: Call 023 348 1401 or fax 023 342 850.
- Overberg: Call 023 348 1400 or fax 023 347 5211.
- Southern Cape/ Karoo: Call 044 802 4537 or fax 044 874 5017.
- A short-stay psychiatric in-patient service is offered from George Hospital in the Southern Cape Karoo.
- West Coast/Winelands: Call 022 487 9264 or fax 022 487 2927.
Cape Mental Health
Cape Mental Health offers help in any of the following circumstances, with a range of counselling, rehabilitation, care and training services. Their work is divided into three main areas:
- Intellectual Disability – people who have damage to the brain, because of a birth defect (e.g. Down Syndrome) or after an injury or accident (e.g. near fatal drowning).
- Psychiatric Disability - people affected by a psychiatric or mental illness (e.g. Schizophrenia).
- Mental Health - our mental wellness, which can be affected by stress, anxiety, grief, etc. People who are unable to deal with pressures like these may become depressed or even suicidal.
South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG):
If you need a referral to a psychologist, psychiatrist or support group, you can call The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) on 011 234 4837 or 0800 20 50 26 and speak to a trained counsellor who can assist you further.
Offices are open 7 days a week from 8am – 8pm.
Autism South Africa
Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Support Group of Southern Africa (ADHASA)
Tel: 083 441 8836 or 021 976 8134
Services Offered: Meetings, advice, referrals
Tia & Deon Beugger
Tel: 082 506 1918 or 021 975 5697
Services Offered: Durbanville Support Group. Workshops alt. Months, referrals, advice
Kensington / Maitland - Cape Town
Tel: 082 899 1891
Services Offered: Support Group Meetings, referrals, advice
Paarl / Wellington
Retha van Wyk
Tel: 083 407 2552 or 021 872 5620
Services Offered: Paarl Support Group. Educational Psychologist, Library of information
Tel: 083 447 0372 or 0443821168
Services Offered: Neuro Stimulation Centre (Neurofeedback, Biofeedback, Auditory Integration etc)
South African Schizophrenia & Bipolar Disorders Alliance