Mental Health Difficulties Among Children

Your child’s mental health involves how they think and feel about themselves, others and how they interpret events in everyday life. It is their ability to cope with change, transition, significant life events and stresses they may face daily.


Understanding your Child’s Mental Health Difficulty

If your child is struggling with a mental health difficulty it may be affecting how they think, feel, and act. It may also impact how they manage stress, cope in their day-to-day life, relate to others, and make choices.


Types of Mental Health Difficulties

There are many different types of mental health difficulties your child may experience. These include:

Anxiety & Stress

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, or worry, which your child might feel about something. It is perfectly normal for everyone to experience anxiety at some stage in their life. Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress.

If your child’s feelings of anxiety are extreme, last for a long period of time, or are interfering with their everyday life, they may have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety can impact your child’s life to the point that it can interfere with their daily activities like school, relationships, friendships or hobbies.

Types of anxiety disorders

  • Panic disorder: characterised by spells of intense fear or terror that develop quickly and unexpectedly
  • Phobia: extreme fear of specific objects, situations, or activities
  • Social anxiety disorder: extreme fear of being judged by others in social situations
  • Separation anxiety disorder: fear of being away from home or loved ones
Panic Attacks

Panic is the intense anxiety that your child might feel in response to something. While it is normal to experience a certain level of anxiety, anxious or nervous thoughts can become problematic if they are so intense that they interfere in your child’s everyday life.

Overwhelming levels of anxiety can lead to a panic attack. A panic attack can start with a sudden and rising feeling of fear and distress. Your child may have a racing heartbeat, breathe fast or gasp for air. Your child may feel dizzy, weak, feel short of breath or have a tight feeling in their chest. They may even feel faint, sick or hyperventilate. Panic attacks can last from a few seconds to an extended period of time.


Depression doesn’t just affect adults. Children and young people can also be affected by depression. If your child is suffering from depression they may experience feelings of hopelessness, helpless, anxiety and or have intense feelings of sadness. All children experience episodes of sadness and feeling low, however children suffering with depression experience these feelings on a continuous basis. Their behaviour may be negative, they may be low in mood, suffer from a lack of motivation, or become withdrawn and isolated.


Eating Disorder

An eating disorder is a term used to describe conditions characterised by difficulties in eating, emotional distress, and the consequences of these difficulties.

If your child is suffering from an eating disorder they may have an unhealthy obsession with food, exercise or their physical appearance.

Types of eating disorders include:


Self-harm is when someone intentionally hurts, cuts or injures themselves. For some people, self-harm is a way of coping with difficult or overwhelming feelings. Self-harm is not necessarily a suicide attempt.

Suicidal Ideation

Suicidal ideation is the thought of ending one’s own life. While adults or children may have fleeting thoughts of ending their life or wishing their life was over, this does not necessarily mean they are suicidal. There is no single reason why someone may try to take their own life, but certain factors, difficulties or problems may make suicide more likely.

Suicide is a leading cause of death, particularly in young people, both in Ireland and worldwide. There are approximately 500 suicides recorded each year in Ireland. If a child or young person has made plans or attempts to end their own life it is important to seek professional help.


Factors That Impact Mental Health

Young people and children may face many factors throughout their lives that can significantly impact on how they think and feel about themselves, their lives and others. The following are some factors that affect children’s mental health:

  • Abuse & domestic violence
  • Alcohol or drug problems
  • Bereavement and loss
  • Bullying and harassment
  • LGBT experiences and coming out
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Relationship and family breakdown or problems


Signs your Child Is Struggling With Their Mental Health

If your child is displaying one or more of the below traits it may be an indicator they are struggling with their mental health.

  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little
  • Withdrawing from people and usual activities
  • Having little or no energy
  • Appearing helpless or hopeless
  • Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
  • Acting unusually on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
  • Yelling or fighting with family and friends
  • Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships


Supporting your child’s mental health

Things that can help keep children and young people mentally well include:

  • Taking steps to maintain good physical health, including eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise
  • Having time and the freedom to play, indoors and outdoors
  • Being part of a family that gets along well most of the time
  • Being listened to by family and friends
  • Attending a supportive school
  • Taking part in local activities for young people such as youth groups, sports team and youth clubs


Need Help?

If you are concerned about your child’s mental health it is important that you seek support and guidance. If your child is having problems at school, a teacher, school nurse, school counsellor or educational psychologist may be able to help. Otherwise, you can go to your GP or speak to a health service professional. Such practitioners can refer your child to further specialist help. Various mental health professionals often work together in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

In an emergency: Emergency services can be contacted at any time of the day or night by calling 999 or 112. You can also go straight to the Accident and Emergency department of your nearest general hospital if you need immediate medical assistance.

You can find more information and support around your child’s mental health at the following organisations:

  • Mental Health Ireland
  • Pieta House
  • Samaritans
  • The HSE:Your mental

Childline is always available for any child or young person up to the age of 18 in Ireland who would like to talk about any topic on their mind.

You can read how we presented information about mental health to children and young people through our site at the following links:

Recommended Posts