Many of the severe mental disorders begin to manifest during the first years of childhood, but often go unnoticed. Sometimes the symptoms tend to be masked behind the typical childhood behaviors and immaturity intrinsic to this period of development, which leads to a late diagnosis. However, detecting a severe mental disorder at an early age and beginning to treat it as soon as possible is essential to alleviate symptoms, slow down its development and help children adapt to their environment.
What is a severe mental disorder?
Severe or serious mental disorders are those chronic alterations with a pattern of psychological and behavioral symptoms that entail a variable degree of disability and social dysfunction. They generally have a genetic and/or hereditary predisposition, while they may be due to biochemical or brain alterations or the appearance of problems during pregnancy or childbirth. The smell of childhood memories.
Unlike mild mental disorders, severe disorders have a chronic course and their symptoms tend to intensify over time, especially if left untreated. Likewise, they tend to affect proper child development and the learning process, in many cases affecting the emotional balance of children and their social relationships with their peers.
Severe mental disorders include, for example , schizophrenia and bipolar disorder , as well as personality disorders, neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder and a large part of neurocognitive disorders such as mental disability or retardation.
At what age are severe mental disorders diagnosed?
Most severe mental disorders are usually diagnosed in late adolescence, but there are also many pathologies that are detected at an early age in childhood, such as autism spectrum disorder and mental retardation or disability. Likewise, around the age of 7 or 8, sometimes earlier, it is also possible to detect some early symptoms of a severe mental disorder.
Sudden and frequent mood swings and aggressive behavior at an early age, for example, can be a sign of a possible severe mental disorder, especially if they are accompanied by other signs such as learning disorders or cognitive problems. In the same way, self- stimulatory behaviors, self-harm, hypersensitivity to environmental stimuli, withdrawal or little facial expression could be other indicators of a possible mental disorder.
The delay in the acquisition of psychomotor skills, the absence of spoken language or its establishment in an unusual pattern can also be a sign that something is wrong, as well as the fact that children are not able to relate to those who teach them. surround. Excessively intense fears or phobias of certain elements can also be an indicator of a severe mental disorder in the making.
However, it is worth noting that although these symptoms may be a sign of a severe mental disorder, they can also be due to a mild alteration or even an unusual phase of childhood development. For this reason, although it is advisable to consult a specialist in the presence of any of these symptoms, it is important not to be alarmed and to remain attentive to their evolution.
The implications of severe mental disorders in the life of a child
Beyond the symptoms of a severe mental disorder, there are other implications for children’s lives. Suffering from a serious mental disorder usually affects the proper cognitive development of children, which translates into intellectual disability and delayed learning. In fact, most children with a severe mental disorder often find it more difficult to learn new knowledge and develop their skills. Analytical skills, problem solving and the thought process are usually the areas most affected.
Likewise, it is common for children with a severe mental disorder to suffer emotional alterations, beyond those derived from the pathology. This means that they tend to be more prone to mood swings and emotional problems such as anxiety or depression. Similarly, they tend to be more emotionally unstable and have low self-esteem and self-worth. They are also much more vulnerable to stress.
Suffering from a severe mental disorder also affects the social life of the little ones. They often have difficulties relating to their peers or those around them, because they have poor social skills. In many cases, it is also difficult for them to be empathic and put themselves in the place of others, as well as assertively express their emotions and feelings.
Suffering from a severe mental disorder is also related to the appearance of academic problems and higher school desertion. Although there are many exceptions, many of the children with a severe mental disorder find it difficult to make their way in the educational world, so they are often more susceptible to low schooling and high rates of school failure. In the long run, this translates into less professional success.
Early action, the key to mitigating its consequences
Although many of the severe mental disorders have no cure, early detection and action can slow down or prevent their progression to chronicity and attenuate symptoms in childhood and later in adulthood. Likewise, it can help children to accept and understand why they are different from the rest, offering them resources that make it easier for them to manage their emotions and behaviour.
Early good performance can also stimulate brain neuroplasticity, helping other brain regions to take over the work of affected functions, which would translate into an improvement in the symptoms of the disorder and greater adaptability, as revealed by a study on screening early childhood autism from the Canadian Pediatric Association. Likewise, it can reduce the appearance of other secondary and concomitant alterations such as anxiety, depression or other emotional problems.
In the same way, treating severe mental disorders in early childhood can help children integrate better into their environment, giving them tools to develop their social skills. Not to mention that it can also be a good strategy to reduce the risk of academic failure, learning problems and school dropout.