Understanding children's mental health & emotional wellbeing

Assessment and Diagnosis

As with adults, mental illnesses in children are diagnosed based on signs and symptoms that suggest a particular disorder. However, this process can be especially challenging with children. Many behaviours that are seen as symptoms of mental disorders, such as shyness, anxiety (nervousness), strange eating habits, toileting issues, sleep problems and outbursts of temper, can occur as a normal part of a child’s development. Behaviours become symptoms when they occur very often, last a long time, occur at an unusual age or cause significant disruption to the child’s and/or family’s ability to function.

Assessment of mental health needs/problems can be termed as being  broadly descriptive within three main categories:

  • Emotions
  • Behaviour
  • Relationships

If symptoms are present, the GP will look at the child’s medical history, and may carry out a physical examination and other tests to rule out physical illness or medication side effects as the cause of the symptoms.

If no physical illness is found, the child may be referred to a child psychiatrist or psychologist, or other relevant mental health professional, specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illness, needs and problems in children and teenagers.