Children's mental health difficulties and how to get help

Some children have emotional and behavioural difficulties that are mild, short-lived and can be resolved with minimum help and support. Others may have difficulties that seem more serious, and interfere with everyday life. Their emotions or behaviour seem to be different to other children of the same age. When problems occur for more than a few weeks and interfere with school, home, friendship or daily life, it is probably time to seek assistance

The following signs may indicate your child has a difficulty that needs professional attention:

  • Frequent, unexplained temper tantrums
  • Unusual fears
  • Difficulty in going to sleep or staying asleep
  • Sadness and feelings of hopelessness that don’t go away
  • Avoiding friends or family and wanting to be alone most of the time
  • Refusing to go to preschool or school on a regular basis
  • Inability to get along with other children
  • Hyperactive behaviour or constant movement beyond regular playing
  • Noticeable disinterest or decline in school performance
  • Frequent aggressive reaction (more than typically expected in the situation)
  • Severe difficulties with concentration, attention and organisation
  • Significant changes in behaviour over a short period of time

Things to take into account when deciding on the need for treatment

1. How severe the symptoms are in terms of:

  • how much distress they cause
  • how often they occur.

2. How much impact the symptoms have on the child: 

  • at home 
  • at school 
  • elsewhere

3. How the child’s behaviour and feelings compare with that of other children the same age. 

4. Any particular experiences within the child’s family, school, community or culture that may be influencing the behaviours of concern. 

5. How the difficulties are affecting the child’s: 

  • behaviour
  • emotions 
  • thoughts
  • learning 
  • social relationships

Your doctor or school psychologist/counsellor can provide further advice.

See also:

Responding to children who may be experiencing mental health difficulties

Should I be concerned: Suggestions for schools and early childhood services