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Treatment options for children with mental illnesses

Paying attention to mental health and mental health illnesses have become a significant part of our society today. The importance of mental health cannot be overemphasized because it is a core part of how we function in our day to day activities as individuals.

In children, it can be difficult to tell the difference between behaviours that are challenging or emotions that are normal in child development. Majority of adults who grew up with mental health disorders look back at how they grew up with these disorders and wished they started treatment during their childhood.

Treatment of mental health illnesses takes place in different forms, and the type a child receives solely depends on the child and family's needs. The treatment can take place in various settings, depending on what the child and the family are comfortable with.

What should a treatment comprise of?

As much as there are a variety of treatments, a good treatment should comprise of the following

  • It should be set towards achieving a goal or solving a problem. Treatment processes that are not goal-oriented will lack direction and lead to efforts in futility.

  • The method of treatment should be evidence-based to be useful in solving the issue experienced by the child or adult taking the treatment.

  • Most importantly, the treatment method must include the person who is receiving the treatment.

The first step to starting treatment is assessment - Before treatment is administered, the evaluation must take place to understand the child and the mental illness they are dealing with. When dealing with mental health illnesses in children, assessment by a mental health professional can help in shedding light on the child's condition or behaviour; this evaluation serves as a guideline for the next steps to be taken. Assessing also helps in identifying the most appropriate intervention to administer.

An assessment should include the following;

  • A clinical report which involves the child's data, the client/child's history (family, educational, medical, social history), interest, abilities and prior treatments if any. This usually involves interviewing the child and parents.

  • An interview with the child. This interview usually comprises questions about his or her experiences and generally asking them how they feel.

  • Getting information from schools and other social gatherings about the child's behaviour, abilities and difficulties

Types of treatments

The results of the assessment may propose that the behaviour of the child is related to stress, changes in the child's environment, trauma, violence experienced and so on. From the assessment the following treatment can be recommended;

  • Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy: it is a way of inducing or bringing about change in how a person acts, thinks and feels. This form of treatment can only be carried out by a professional, and it is directed at inducing change, bringing about harmony with self, to alleviate subjective distress and to bring about self-understanding. It is usually used for disorders like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and so on.

  • Cognitive therapy: this form of treatment is aimed at correcting a child's negative thoughts that can lead to distorted behaviours. It is usually used for disorders like anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, panic attacks and so on.

  • Behaviour therapy: it focuses on the child's behaviour and seeks to help them change behaviours that are unhealthy and harmful to the child and the people around him or her. It is usually used for disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, eating disorders, bipolar disorders, anxiety disorders and so on.

  • Family therapy: this is usually done to help families go through the changes that come with the mental health illnesses or behavioural problems of the child in the family.

  • Exposure therapy: this type of treatment is aimed at helping the child face their fears by exposing the child to the things they are afraid of, which helps reduce the child's fear. It is usually used for disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorders and so on.

  • Problem-solving therapy: this form of treatment helps the child by providing the child with ways to identify and solve problems arising from the stress they face in life. It is usually used for disorders like depression, anxiety disorder and so on.

  • Psycho-education: This is providing the child and the family of the child with detailed information about their disorder, the treatments and how it can be managed.


These treatments can only be carried out by a professional after they have assessed the child and gotten the most appropriate treatment to be used.

Telling the difference between normal childhood behaviours and behaviours that are abnormal can be difficult. When specific actions become persistent, lasting for weeks or months, begin to interfere with the child's day to day activities. When the behaviour starts to become unsafe to the child and everyone around, then the child should be taken to a professional for assessment and treatment.









Written by Akinloye Folashade, a psychology graduate from the University of Lagos (Unilag) with a passion for mental health and people with special needs .A mental health advocate looking to educate people on mental health illnesses especially in children and adolescents and help stop stigmatisation against those illnesses.

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