Skip to main content

Mental illness is hypernym that encompasses a wide range of distinct diagnosable mental health ailments, disorders, diseases, and conditions, and is characterized by a “clinically significant disturbance in an individual’s cognition, emotional regulation, or behavior… [and] it is usually associated with distress or impairment in important areas of functioning.” There is no single cause for mental illness, rather a confluence of factors contribute to risk for mental illness. Untreated mental health illnesses can lead to the development of severe short- and long-term physiological consequences, some of which include the following, provided by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University

  • Physical health complications: Children with mental illness are at increased risk of numerous health problems (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity, etc.). 
  • Weakened immune system: Mental illness can compromise the immune system, raising one’s susceptibility to infections and physical ailments.
  • Interfere with brain development: Unaddressed mental illness can derail typical adolescent development and cause damaging effects on learning, behavior, cognition, and emotional functioning.
  • Sleep irregularities: The circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) shifts throughout adolescence, which can lead to a variety of sleep disturbances (e.g. difficulty falling asleep, difficulty remaining asleep throughout the night, difficulty waking up in the morning, etc.), and mental illness can exacerbate these disturbances. Sleep is a fundamental necessity of life, and even a minor sleep deficit can have a significant effect on a child’s physical health and mental wellbeing.
  • Malnutrition: Certain mental health illnesses (e.g., body dysmorphic disorder, anorexia, bulimia, etc.) can have a direct impact on a child’s nutrition. Anorexia, is characterized by “an abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of weight.” Young people with anorexia engage in a cycle of self-starvation that often results in malnutrition including a lack of essential minerals and nutrients.

According to findings from the World Health Organization’s World Mental Health Survey Initiative half of all mental health conditions start by age 14 but most cases go undetected and untreated. Overall, mental illness can have significant and long-lasting effects on the body of a child. Additionally, findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, indicated that individuals with childhood psychological problems were associated later in life with being less conscientious, having a lower likelihood of being married, and having less-stable personal relationships. Early intervention and proper treatment can help prevent long-term consequences. 

Further Information and Support

For most of us, life can be very stressful, leading us to feel emotionally charged, which can cause anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and getting stuck in a cycle of being burdened with negative thoughts. Navigating through the challenges and emotional turmoil of life can be overwhelming, but you do not have to go through it alone. Engage Treatment is a Joint Commission Accredited professional psychological practice. We specialize in treating children, teens, and young adults struggling with depression and anxiety through community-focused treatment plans that incorporate a carefully selected combination of therapeutic interventions. Our compassionate, multidisciplinary practitioners are devoted to providing the highest quality of care that helps ignite positive change and enables clients to reach optimal health and well-being. Please do not hesitate to reach out for guidance. We are happy to answer questions and provide you with any additional information. Feel free to call us at 805-497-0605 or email us at [email protected]. You are also welcomed to get in touch by filling out our contact form. We look forward to connecting and having the opportunity to discuss how we might best be able to support you.

Leave a Reply

Back to top