Children and Mental Health Disorders

Even though National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day was on May 6, it is still a relevant topic that many people do not think about, or discuss. We wanted to bring this day to light, and put a spotlight on the importance of caring for every child’s mental health and reinforce that positive mental health is essential to a child’s healthy development. 

According to, one in every four or five youth in the general population meets criteria for a lifetime mental disorder, and the risk of mental illness increases for young people from low-income families and those who have been involved with the juvenile justice or child welfare systems. Discrimination associated with mental illness poses a large barrier to recovery and is the main reason why people don’t seek help and treatment.

The most common mental health disorders in children include those related to anxiety, depression, attention deficit-hyperactivity, and eating. Some examples include

  • Anxiety disorders: 
    • Characterized by feelings of excessive uneasiness, worry, and fear
    • Occur in approximately 32 percent of 13- to 18-year-olds
    • Examples include generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias
  • Depression:
    • Depressed mood that affects thoughts, feelings, and daily activities, including eating, sleeping, and working
    • Occurs in approximately 13 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds
    • Examples include depressive disorder, postpartum depression, and seasonal affective disorder
  • Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD):
    • Characterized by continued inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with daily functioning or development
    • Occurs in approximately nine percent of 13- to 18-year-olds
  • Eating disorders:
    • Characterized by extreme and abnormal eating behaviours, such as insufficient or excessive eating 
    • Occur in almost three percent of 13- to 18-year-olds6
    • Examples include anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge eating disorder

Below is a story about Alyssa. She is a young woman who struggled with an eating disorder but has been strong and resilient and is making steps every day to recover. 

Alyssa Avalon is no stranger to the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, having struggled with mental health and eating disorders for the past 12 years. Alyssa was diagnosed with depression at the age of 13 and a combination of anorexia with purging tendencies at the age of 21. In 2018, Alyssa was admitted to Firelands Regional Medical Center, not knowing she would meet the person who would help change her life for the better.

Alyssa’s Story

In 2018, Alyssa was not taking any solid foods or fluids, putting herself at risk for experiencing acute kidney injuries.

“To go into the hospital and feel like there were no options was scary,” said Alyssa. “I was feeling very helpless, hopeless and had actually wanted to die at that point.” But that moment was a turning point for Alyssa; it brought someone incredibly special into her life. 

Maggie Helle, a dietitian at Firelands Regional Medical Center, originally met Alyssa during her first admittance in 2015 and then again when she was readmitted three years later.

“Maggie created a lasting impact on my life,” said Alyssa. “She consistently worked with me, and she met with me many times to check on how I was doing and gave me a space to let out all that the eating disorder was starving away from me.”

“We worked on goal setting for her,” said Maggie. “Trying to set some goals such as increasing her intakes as the days went on, and I just tried to really encourage her.”

While many types of medical staff assist patients with mental health disorders, Alyssa feels that Maggie was really someone she could rely on. 

“I felt very inspired because Maggie became someone who I could be open with, and not feel judged.”

Although the process of her recovery was a long and slow one, she gained the tools to help conquer her demons.

“By the end of her stay she was eating solid foods and getting the three meals a day to meet her goal,” said Maggie.

When asked how she is doing today, Alyssa responded, “very well!”

“I am now working a full-time job, managing online college, and surrounding myself with positive people as well as being active in my church,” said Alyssa. “I have maintained a healthy outlook on food, healthy body function as well as positive thoughts regarding food and the way it helps me.”

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by weight loss; difficulties maintaining an appropriate body weight for height, age, and stature; and, in many individuals, distorted body image. Most individuals suffering from anorexia see themselves as overweight even when they are starved or are clearly malnourished. 

While anorexia affects many people, it has been found to be more frequent in women and teenagers. In the US, 5 percent of adolescent girls suffer from anorexia and 5 to 20 percent of teens who have anorexia will die for reasons related to the disorder. In most studies, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of different eating disorders. In a recent study by Fichter and colleagues, individuals with anorexia nervosa were 5 times more likely to have died over the study period than age-matched peers in the general population. 1 in 5 anorexia deaths are by suicide. 

“For patients who have dropped their BMI below a healthy weight there is a possibility of needing not only medical intervention but also a long term residential stay for stabilization,” said Julie Didion, outpatient mental health coordinator at Firelands Counseling & Recovering Services. 

“That’s where the outpatient realm really has to take a step back and let the inpatient side do its work because those patients are incredibly high risk.”

“If a family doesn’t know where to turn, we would encourage them to come in to get them linked up with some of our resources.”

Symptoms to Look For

When a co-worker, friend, or a member of your family is struggling with their mental wellbeing, they might not know where to turn for help. Knowing the signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa could save someone’s life.

Signs of anorexia nervosa can include:

  • Sudden loss of weight
  • Becoming obsessive over food, tracking calories, fat and sugar
  • Dieting or compulsive exercise regimens despite already being thin
  • Lying about food intake
  • Refusal to eat
  • Denial of hunger
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Brittle nails
  • Hair that thins, breaks or falls out
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness or fainting

Firelands Counseling & Recovery Services is a wonderful resource for those dealing with mental health issues and suicidal thoughts. If a suicide attempt by your loved one seems imminent, call the crisis hotline (800-826-1306), call 911, or take your loved one to the nearest emergency room.

Anyone experiencing a mental health or chemical addiction crisis may access Firelands Counseling & Recovery Services through the Crisis Hotline at 1-800-826-1306, or by calling any of the Firelands Outpatient Behavioral Health offices.