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11 Simple Signs a Child May Have a Psychiatric Disorder

New list aims to help identify problems earlier 

A group of mental health experts from around the country, alarmed at the number of children struggling with undiagnosed psychiatric disorders, has formulated a list of 11 simple signs that a child might have a mental illness.

The goal is to make it easier for parents, teachers, pediatricians, and others who work with children to know when they should take steps to get care for a child or adolescent. The list aims to help separate warning signs of illness from typical moodiness and occasional disruptive behavior like defiance, aggression, and impulsivity. The model for the pared-down list was the seven warning signs for cancer issued by the Cancer Institute.

The warning signs for psychiatric illness are often differentiated from behavior that's not problematic by how long the behavior lasts, whether it impacts a child's functioning, or whether it affects other people. "Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still," for instance, calls for action if it puts a child "in physical danger or causes school failure." "Feeling very sad or withdrawn" is a problem if it lasts for two weeks or more.

The group, led by Mayo Clinic psychiatrist Peter Jensen, interviewed some 6,000 families to hone the language that would be most helpful to parents. The list was tested against children with diagnosed psychiatric disorders, to see if it would have predicted their conditions. Two federal agencies, Center for Mental Health Services and National Institute of Mental Health, funded the project. Dr. Jensen is the president of the Resource for Advancing Children's Health, the group that undertook the project.

Here are the 11 warning signs parents should watch for:

  • Feeling very sad or withdrawn for two or more weeks
  • Seriously trying to harm or kill yourself, or making plans to do so
  • Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing
  • Involved in multiple fights, using a weapon, or wanting badly to hurt others
  • Severe, out-of-control behavior that can hurt yourself or others
  • Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to make yourself lose weight
  • Intensive worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities
  • Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still that puts you in physical danger or causes school failure
  • Repeated use of drugs or alcohol
  • Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
  • Drastic changes in your behavior or personality

Published: October 28, 2011

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mbarlow · Apr 16 2013 Report

Wow, very eye opening!

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