Mental Illness in Children


“The middle one scares me.”

This is what Ryan said to me when we sat down to talk about his mental illness, and his suspicion of his child’s mental illness.
“I believe what I have is passed from my mother – she has nine brothers and sisters – four are bipolar, counting her.  Three of my cousins killed themselves; they were also bipolar.”  Ryan was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was 12, the same age he was when he tried to commit suicide.  He said it “got swept under the rug” within his family when he tried to kill himself, and that his mom is in denial about her own disorder.

He has now learned about his mental illness so he can handle it while living life and raising a family.  “I’ve enlightened myself on my disorder, my triggers.  Knowledge is everything.”
Ryan said he is just now noticing signs of mental illness in his middle daughter, who is now 12, the age that “it all fell apart” for him.

“I can definitely see it in her,” he said.  “The highs, the lows.  The cloud that follows her.  She’s a dark child.  She’s not very social, she’s depressed a lot.  And then she’ll be really happy for a while.  It’s extreme behavior.”  Ryan said he’s been around kids his entire life, and that he knows his daughter is “just not normal.”  He said, “I can see it.  She’s so much like me, it’s crazy.”

There are various warning signs to look for in children when it comes to mental illness.  According to the Mayo Clinic, you should watch for mood changes, like feelings of sadness that last for at least two weeks.  Also look for severe mood swings that cause problems at home or school.  Intense feelings, like overwhelming fear or worry that interferes with day-to-day living should be seen as a warning sign.  Rapid breathing or a racing heartbeat can accompany these feelings.  Children who exhibit a difficulty concentrating or who have a hard time focusing and sitting still when they should be, could be showing signs that mental illness is present.  Changes in behavior or personality could also denote a mental illness in a child.

While these are only a few of the signs to look for, if you’re concerned that your child might have a mental illness, what matters is that you start somewhere.  It’s important to identify if there is any mental illness in order to help the child cope and receive treatment.

Ryan said he and his whole family are going to start going to family counseling.  “After my last episode, I sat them down and told them I’m bipolar, this is what it is, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”  Ryan continued, “They asked some questions, but I think they pretty much know.  It was almost a relief for them, I think.  It opened up some things that we’ve talked about since.”  As for his specific fear for his middle daughter, Ryan said, “I’m doing my best to try to make things easy for her.  I talk to her a lot and try to do what I wish people did for me when I was her age.”

To learn more about how to detect mental illness and substance abuse in children, you can register for the free summit hosted by the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Allen, Auglaize, and Hardin Counties.  The summit is on September 26 and will be at the Veterans Memorial Civic and Convention Center in Lima.  You can learn more about the summit and register at