Was I a Disturbed Child?

was I a disturbed child?

Adult mental illness, as we know, can frequently be traced back to childhood. It is quite possible, then, that many of us who have suffered emotional problems as adults were already showing signs of emotional disturbance as children. This is certainly true in my own case : crying, screaming, getting into fights, outbursts of uncontrolled rage, smashing up household items (they were mainly cheap and nasty, so this was no great loss), threatening my step-parent/parents, getting drunk on a regular basis from about 14 onwards – once, I recall, aged about 15, I shut myself in a small cupboard at home and refused to re-emerge (actually, I don’t think anyone asked me to come out) for about two hours ( it  was quite nice in there, as it happens).  I could add more to this list (quite a lot more, in fact), but I’ve probably embarrassed myself sufficiently for the time being.

In general terms, if we were disturbed as children, the kind of symptoms that we are likely to have displayed are as follows:

– aggression – this may be displayed towards people or animals; very disturbed children may torture animals

– great anxiety in social situations, leading to social withdrawal

– marked immaturity eg temper tantrums, inability to cope, tendency to cry in situations in which it would not be normally expected of someone of the particular age of the person

– development of physical (somatic) symptoms in response to anxiety, also known as psychosomatic symptoms (an example might be extreme anxiety leading to an upset stomach)

– hyperactivity (short attention span, impulsivity – although there is concern in some quarters that this is being over-diagnosed)

– a sudden drop in academic performance/poor academic performance with no obvious explanation

– pervasive unhappiness and depression

– early use of/dependency on alcohol and/or drugs

In the most severe cases, the person may suffer from distorted thinking, extreme and excessive fear and anxiety, odd physical movements (psychomotor behaviour,) or extreme and unusual mood swings.

IMPORTANT NOTE : if some of these symptoms are displayed, it does not guarantee that there is an underlying emotional disturbance; however, the longer the symptoms persist and the more severe they are, the more likely they are to indicate that professional intervention is required.

WHAT PROPORTION OF CHILDREN ARE THOUGHT TO BE EMOTIONALLY DISTURBED?

In the USA, about 15% of those under the age of 18 may be significantly emotionally disturbed. Also, about 5% of the same age group (about 3 million individuals) are currently on psychiatric medication in the USA.

TWO COMMON DISORDERS SUFFERED BY CHILDREN WITH AN UNDERLYING EMOTIONAL DISTURBANCE :

– CONDUCT DISORDER

– ANXIETY DISORDER

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

CONDUCT DISORDER : the  person diagnosed with this may :

– have difficulty following rules

– have difficulty behaving in a way which is socially acceptable

– display aggression and hostility to people

– display aggression towards animals

self-harm (eg cut self with knife or razor etc)

– frequently lie/ be deceitful and devious

– steal

– set fires

– vandalize property

– be frequently truant

The kind of therapies which can help with this are family therapy and training programs for children helping them to develop problem solving skills.

ANXIETY DISORDER : this disorder is the one which is most commonly diagnosed in children (and adults, for that matter).  Its symptoms are :

– severe and long lasting agitation/fear which the person finds very difficult or impossible to control (in this situation, professional intervention should be sought – treatments are very often highly effective)

– irrational and overwhelming fear/anxiety may occur in what would normally be considered everyday/routine situations

TREATMENT : Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can be extremely effective for treating anxiety. I myself underwent a course in this about two years ago and it was definitely of considerable help.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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About David Hosier MSc

Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of childhoodtraumarecovery.com. Survivor of severe childhood trauma.

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