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Last updated on November 29th, 2023.

Mental illnesses are often thought to be something that only teenagers and adults suffer from. However, studies show that many children suffer from mental illnesses that can easily be diagnosed with the proper exams. But did you know that sure signs could give you an indication of whether your child may have a mental disorder?

While many signs can give parents a heads-up as to whether their child may or may not be suffering from a mental illness, there are seven that are more common. If your child exhibits one or more of these signs, you may want to consult with a medical professional.

To discover whether your child has a mental disorder that can be treated, you will need to understand more about the various signs that exist. Keep reading to learn more about mental illnesses in toddlers and what signs you should look out for.

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Can Toddlers Have Mental Illness?

Just like adults, children, and more specifically, toddlers, can suffer from various mental illnesses that can be treated when diagnosed. Although some medical professionals are hesitant to interpret them, others believe that the earlier they are diagnosed, the earlier they can get the proper treatment.

The difficulty comes in during the diagnosis of certain mental illnesses. This is because toddlers are still developing, and a mental disease could be mistaken for immaturity or other common behaviors.

Additionally, mental illnesses found in toddlers typically have pretty different symptoms than those patients who are adults. In most cases, this is because, with children, some of the symptoms are remarkably like common behaviors in young children.

What Causes Mental Illness in Toddlers?

Although much has been researched about mental illnesses through the years, there is still so much to learn. One of the most critical questions researchers have been figuring out the cause of certain mental illnesses.

Most studies have shown that any number of specific factors cause mental illness, but they cannot be sure of the exact cause. This is because of the various case studies and the manifestation in the person.

Some of the causes of mental illnesses in toddlers are:

  • This is when mental illnesses are passed down through the bloodline of specific families. In many cases, if the parents have mental illnesses, the child will likely do so at some point in their lives.
  • Trauma can be any number of traumatic experiences a toddler has gone through early in their lives. Whether they have been abused, either physically or sexually, lost a parent, or neglected by one or both parents.
  • Chemical Imbalance is typically when the neurotransmitters in the brain fail to communicate certain things to the rest of the body. This can be caused by birth complications or even traumatic brain injuries early in life.
  • Certain things in life can cause stress for toddlers and can result in various forms of mental illness. These stressors include fighting parents in the home or other traumatic events that may occur in a toddler’s environment.

It is essential to keep in mind that while these are the most common causes of mental illness in children, it is not meant to be an exhaustive list. This means that the cause of your toddler’s mental illness may be one or more of the above causes, or it could be something else entirely.

How Early Can a Child Be Diagnosed with Mental Illness?

There is a school of thought that believes that children cannot be diagnosed with a mental illness because they have not fully developed. Other researchers understand the need to begin analyzing as early as possible to ensure they have a great start in life.

The problem with diagnosing toddlers is that because of their energy and zest for life, it is difficult to get reliable data from them. In addition, many of the diagnostic tests do not factor in the child’s age, which can result in either misdiagnosis or extreme information.

Most studies have shown that to get the most accurate diagnostic data as they relate to mental illnesses, a child should be age five or higher. This is because the child’s development needs to be at a certain maturity level.

The other issue with diagnosing children under the age of is the communication barrier that exists, with many of them not being able to express what they are feeling. Since this is the case, getting the correct diagnosis may be more of a guessing game.

There are more recent studies from psychiatrists and psychologists who have stressed the importance of being able to diagnose toddlers and even infants with mental illnesses. The belief is that the earlier a child can be analyzed, the better their chances of having an everyday life with necessary medications or treatments.

What Are the 3 Most Common Mental Disorders in Childhood?

Mental illnesses in children are like ones that adults are often diagnosed with. The most significant difference is that the symptoms can be different and sometimes challenging to diagnose.

While a child can technically have any number of mental illnesses, there are a few that are more common than others. Some of these are not seen until the child is in school. However, others can be seen as soon as they are toddler-age.

Here are some of the most common mental disorders in childhood:

  1. ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)– children with ADHD often exhibit a lack of focus and attention, impulsive behavior, hyperactivity, and overall restlessness. While this can most often be seen in school-aged children, it can also be diagnosed in younger children. Well, with some effective ADHA treatments, it can be cured.
  2. Anxiety Disorders– these disorders include anxiety, both general and social, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Children with these illnesses often display symptoms of constantly worrying and stressing, fear of unknown situations, and obsessing about various things.
  3. Mood Disorders- these include illnesses such as depression and bipolar disorder that can disrupt the routine of a child. Children with these disorders may exhibit signs of being sad all the time, feeling an absolute high one minute and then a super low the next.

The bottom line about the most common disorders is that although they are more widely known and experienced, the symptoms may vary in each case. Because of this, psychiatrists and psychologists take careful consideration before diagnosing a child with one of them.

7 Signs That Show Mental Illness in Toddlers

Knowing whether your toddler has a mental illness can be overwhelming and frustrating if you are not sure what to look for. Since every child is different, it is easy to miss certain signs indicating more going on than unique child development.

Read on to learn about the most common signs that may show mental illness in toddlers.

1. Eating/Sleeping Changes

From the time a child is born, eating and sleeping patterns can seem erratic but also tend to follow phases they are going through. This is typically because of the rapid rate at which they grow and change.

Sudden eating and sleeping changes, however, can indicate that something more serious could be happening with your child. If your toddler is suddenly not wanting to eat or sleep or doing either of them excessively, they may be showing signs of mental illness.

Although this may be the case, now all eating or sleeping changes indicate mental illness, it may be a good idea to take them to a medical professional to be sure.

2. Excessive Temper Tantrums

Temper tantrums are typically the norm at toddler age. Some toddlers express their emotions, sometimes loudly, through tantrums when they do not get what they want.

If your toddler has temper tantrums that seem to last longer than usual or are happening more frequently, this could indicate a mental disorder. While this is not the case in all toddlers who throw temper tantrums, it is a source of unhappiness.

Signs That Show Mental Illness in Toddlers - info

3. Frequent Nightmares or Night Terrors

Sometimes, nightmares can happen to toddlers at random times, and it often leaves them shaken and upset for quite a while afterward. A nightmare now and then is not something about which you should worry.

If your toddler is having frequent nightmares or night terrors that are causing them to wake up screaming or completely scared, you may want to take notice. Done more frequently, nightmares or night terrors can indicate that there is something else going on.

Certain types of mental disorders can cause anxiety to hit an all-time high, which can then produce nightmares or night terrors in children. If your child has them often, this may be a sign that you should get checked out.

4. Seems to Worry About Everything

Most people associate worrying with adults but do not often think about children being overly concerned with certain things. Some children are sometimes more aware and seem mindful of things happening. However, this is usually very minimal.

If you notice that your toddler seems to worry about everything, such as when you leave, their schedule changes, or when they go to the doctor, you may want to pay attention. This is because excessive worrying about everything could be a sign that your toddler is struggling with a mental disorder.

5. Restlessness or Not Paying Attention

It is common for toddlers to have a short attention span when it comes to most things they do throughout the day. Research shows that toddlers can generally focus on one thing for no more than about 10-15 minutes at a time.

Children who seem restless all the time or who seem to flit from one thing to another rapidly may have a bit more going on than you think. This could indicate that they have a mental illness such as ADHD or something else.

If your toddler goes to daycare, the teachers may even mention that they are often unfocused and restless. It is essential to pay attention to these signs so that you can try to get them the best care possible.

6. Drastic Mood Changes

Toddlers are often known to change their minds about things, sometimes even from moment to moment. This is partially because they have a shorter attention span and a tendency to go through many emotions within minutes.

If your toddler is having drastic mood changes that happen more frequently than what is considered normal, this may be a sign that they are struggling with a mental disorder. While mood changes can occur in toddlers, they typically do not happen drastically all the time.

7. Withdrawn/Wants to Be Alone

It is common for toddlers to isolate themselves when playing or participating in various activities. This is especially true if they are an only child who often plays by themselves at home.

If your child, who once was the center of attention and thrived on the social aspect of either daycare or other social events, suddenly wants to be alone, you may want to take notice. Sudden signs of withdrawal and isolation could indicate that they have a mental disorder.

Online Resources to Help if You Suspect Your Child is Mentally Ill

It is essential to keep in mind that if your child has a mental illness, or if you suspect that they are, you are not alone. Some resources can help you from helping you to find a doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist in your area to help you with the signs of mental illness.

If you suspect your toddler may have a mental illness, the first step is typically to contact the medical professional that you see regularly. Find out how to get mental health services without insurance to simplify the process. This is because they are the ones who know your child’s medical history the most and can help you navigate the process of getting them checked out.

When a situation arises that is more of an emergency, it is essential to understand that there are other resources online that are equipped to help with this type of situation.

Here are some online resources that can help you if you suspect your child has a mental illness:

  • The Crisis Text Hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to help in a crisis. The website explains how you can use this resource.
  • The Child Mind Institute has a symptom checker and other resources for parents to use if they suspect their child has a mental illness.
  • The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, or AACAP, has resources that can help parents navigate the realm of getting their child diagnosed and treatment options for a suspected mental disorder.

Final Thoughts

With mental illness on the rise, it is essential to ensure that if you suspect your toddler has a mental disorder, you get them help as soon as possible. Getting the help they need for their mental health is just as important as going to the doctor for physical health needs. Look for the best early childhood mental health certifications to become a professional.

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