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  • Writer's pictureHEAL Foundation

Children’s Mental Health: Meaning, Signs, Causes, Prevention

Updated: Apr 4

The other meaning of Mental Health. It doesn’t just imply having a mental health disorder. It’s just as important as physical health for living a happy, healthy, and well-rounded life.

What Is Mental Health?

Mental health refers to your state of mind, and how you think, feel, and behave. Mental health is about gauging your emotional well-being. Are you able to cope with the ups and downs in life? Do you feel like you are reaching your full potential and making the most of your life or even each day?

The World Health Organization defines mental health as,

Mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community. It is an integral component of health and well-being that underpins our individual and collective abilities to make decisions, build relationships and shape the world we live in. Mental health is a basic human right. And it is crucial to personal, community and socio-economic development.

Mental health is more than the absence of mental disorders.”

Mental Health vs Mental Illness

Many people have mental health concerns from time to time. But when a temporary mental health concern presents ongoing signs and symptoms that cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function it becomes a mental illness. A mental illness can make you miserable and can cause problems in your daily life, such as at school or work, or in relationships.

Common Signs of Poor Mental Health

  • Mood Changes

  • Excessive Anger

  • Changes in school performance

  • Feeling sad or down

  • Anxious

  • Unusual thinking

  • Feeling disconnected

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Changes in sleep

  • Excessive worrying or fear

  • Disorganized or confused thoughts

  • Withdrawal

  • Increased sensitivities

  • Drop in functioning

  • Frequent temper tantrums

  • Withdrawn

  • Appetite changes

  • Substance abuse

  • Disrupted sleep

  • Aggression

  • Sex drive changes

  • Emotional outbursts

  • Persistent nightmares

Spotting Poor Mental Health in Children

There are several signs and symptoms to look for in children who may be struggling with their mental health. Every child is unique and expresses themselves differently so it can be difficult to spot. 

If a child is presenting a couple of these symptoms it may be something to key an eye on but doesn’t call for major concern right away. If several of the following are occurring, it may be useful to follow up with a mental health professional.

Common Signs of Children Struggling with Mental Health

  • Sudden/major change in mood and behavior

  • Signs of self-harm

  • Sudden and inexplicable changes in their physical appearance (weight loss or weight gain)

  • Sudden decline in academic performance

  • Constantly tired (can lead to difficulty in concentration)

  • Change in their social behavior, such as a withdrawal from friends and peers

What Causes Poor Mental Health

There are a lot of things that can affect a person's or child's mental health. The biggest culprit that leads to poor mental health is stress. A plethora of things can cause stress and maybe just one thing or a multitude of things happening at once. 

Factors like work, relationships, physical health, perception of oneself, difficult life experiences, etc. can all cause stress.

How to Improve Mental Health

Relationships with other people can help to improve mental health because they can contribute to feelings of self-worth, provide emotional support, and share positive experiences with others. To build stronger lasting relationships, take time out of your day to be with friends and family. Although social media is a great way to interact with others and stay in touch, it’s not the same as meeting up with friends in person.

Build self-esteem through staying active and exercising. Being physically active is another way to improve mental health because it stimulates the release of endorphins and neurotransmitters that promote positive feelings and regulate stress.

Another way to increase self-esteem is learning something new because it promotes a sense of purpose. Try a new hobby, learn a different language, or learn new skills. The one thing to keep in mind is not to put too much pressure on yourself to be good and it takes the fun and enjoyment out of it.

Kindness creates positive feelings and helps you connect with other people. Even small acts of kindness like spending time with people who need company and offering to help others can improve mental well-being.

Stay in the present and enjoy the moment. Don’t let your mind wander towards negative thoughts or things in the past that may not have been very pleasant. Find things to look forward to. Paying attention to the present moment makes life richer and more exciting.

Preventative Measures to Reduce Poor Mental Health

  • Connect with other people

  • Stay active and exercise

  • Learn a new skill

  • Be kind and give to others

  • Be present in the moment (mindfulness)

  • Eat a healthy diet

  • Get quality sleep


50% of all chronic mental illnesses begin by the age of 14 and 75% by the age of 24. Poor mental health doesn’t automatically mean having a mental disorder. Mental health is a way of understanding how well a person is doing. Poor mental health can lead to mental illness but through having a better understanding of what mental health is, the signs and symptoms, preventative measures can be taken to improve poor mental health and potentially prevent mental illness.


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