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7 Myths About Child Mental Health

Diane Park - Monday, October 20, 2014

Adapted from The Huffington Post October 21, 2014 article by Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, president of the Child Mind Institute.

MYTH 1: A child with a psychiatric disorder is damaged for life.

A psychiatric disorder is by no means an indication of a child's potential for future happiness and fulfillment. The most important thing to remember here is that early intervention can be very effective at preventing chronic, debilitating conditions.

MYTH 2: Psychiatric problems result from personal weakness.

It can be difficult to separate the symptoms of a child's psychiatric disorder - impulsive behavior, aggressiveness, or extreme shyness, for example — from a child's character. A psychiatric disorder is an illness, just like diabetes or leukemia, and is not a personality type.

MYTH 3: Psychiatric disorders result from bad parenting.

While a child's home environment and relationships with his parents can exacerbate a psychiatric disorder, these things don't cause the disorder. Anxiety, depression — indeed, the full range of psychiatric disorders - often have biological causes. Parenting isn't to blame.

MYTH 4: A child can manage a psychiatric disorder through willpower.

The key word here is disorder. A disorder is not mild anxiety or a dip in mood. It is severe distress and dysfunction that can affect all areas of a child's life. A heartbreaking number of parents resist mental health services for their children because they fear the stigma attached to diagnoses or see psychiatrists as pill pushers.

MYTH 5: Therapy for kids is a waste of time.

Today's evidence-based treatment programs (that is, programs shown through research to be effective) for children and teens use a cognitive-behavioral therapy model that focuses on changing the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are causing them serious problems. Research has shown that there's a "window of opportunity" - the first years during which symptoms of psychiatric disorders appear - when treatment interventions are most successful.

MYTH 6: Children are over-medicated.

Psychiatrists use enormous care when deciding whether and how to start a child on a treatment plan that includes medication - usually along with behavioral therapy. We never doubt whether a child with diabetes or a seizure disorder should get medication; we should take psychiatric illness just as seriously.

MYTH 7: Children grow out of mental health problems.

Children are less likely to "grow out" of psychiatric disorders than they are to "grow into" more debilitating conditions. Most mental health problems left untreated in childhood become more difficult to treat in adulthood. Since we know that most psychiatric disorders emerge before a child's 14th birthday, we should have huge incentive to screen young people for emotional and behavioral problems. We can then initiate treatment while a child's brain is most responsive to change and treatment is more likely to be successful.

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