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Although mental health was once considered a taboo subject, it has increasingly become a topic of everyday conversation. While we still have much work to do, it’s promising to see so many people taking initiative to learn about the various conditions that impact the lives of millions of Americans.

Unfortunately, mental health disorders know no bounds and are very common among children and adolescents. Research shows that half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14. This can seem daunting, and you’re probably thinking, “where do we go from here?”  While the entire month of May is dedicated to Mental Health Awareness, we will be focusing our discussion on the topic of children’s mental health issues specifically. We must start having the tough conversations earlier with our youth. When you normalize the discussion of mental health at a young age, you open the door for impactful conversations that will carry on throughout adulthood. This is why we’re advocating for National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week.

The greatest service you can provide to those impacted by mental illness is to educate yourself. No matter the condition, the more information and knowledge you possess, the more equipped you are to help someone through a hard time. There is a stigma that comes with mental health that can make those who personally deal with these issues feel alienated. It’s important to make individuals, friends and families know that they are not alone in their diagnosis. For this particular post, we’re going to spotlight Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in kids.

Digging Deeper: A focus on OCD in kids

Although OCD can occur at any age, there are generally two age ranges when OCD tends to first appear:

  • Between ages 8 and 12.
  • Between the late teen years and early adulthood.

The average age at which OCD usually appears is 9–10 years old.  There are also at least 1 in 200 – or 500,000 – kids and teens that have OCD.  This is about the same number of kids who have diabetes.

That means four or five kids with OCD are likely to be enrolled in any average size elementary school. In a medium to large high school, there could be 20 students struggling with the challenges caused by OCD.

As with adults, OCD in kids involves both obsessions and compulsions that take a lot of time and get in the way of important activities, such as school and extracurricular activities, developing friendships, and self-care.

Only can diagnose OCD. In general, OCD is diagnosed when obsessions and compulsions become so time-consuming that they negatively interfere with the child’s daily life.Treatment can be very helpful for children with OCD, allowing them to lead full and productive lives.

Pediatric OCD is best treated by a licensed mental health professional using a type of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) called exposure and response prevention (ERP).  For some youth, psychiatric medication may be considered if their symptoms are very severe and/or not helped by ERP alone. Medications should only be prescribed by a licensed medical professional (such as your pediatrician or a psychiatrist) who has experience working with youth, and would ideally work together with your child’s therapist to develop a treatment plan.

Help & Resources

OCD is not something a kid or teen can simply “snap out of.” The obsessions they suffer from and the compulsions they use to try to get rid of their bad feelings are often not easy to control.

It is important to remember that OCD is not a result of something that the child, parent, or others did wrong.

There is no “cure” for OCD, but OCD is very treatable with exposure and response prevention (ERP) and/or medication. You can visit the IOCDF’s ocdinkids.org website for more information about OCD symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. In addition, the IOCDF offers a comprehensive Online Resource Directory which you can use to find local treatment providers, clinics, programs, and support groups. In addition, the IOCDF offers special youth programming at the Annual OCD Conference, taking place July 27 – 29 in Washington D.C.

Your child or teen’s future success does not have to be limited by OCD!

Important Note about PANDAS/PANS: In rare cases, symptoms may develop seemingly “overnight” with a rapid change in behavior and mood and sudden appearance of severe anxiety. There is a sub-type of Pediatric OCD caused by an infection, such as strep throat, that confuses the child’s immune system into attacking the brain instead of the infection. This type of OCD is called Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcus (PANDAS) if it is a strep infection, or Pediatric Acute-Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (PANS) if it is any other infection.  In these cases, it is important to team up with a medical provider, such as your child’s pediatrician, in addition to a mental health provider when seeking care.  Click here to learn more about PANDAS/PANS.

Continue to The Conversation 

Dealing with a diagnosis of OCD can be overwhelming, especially when it is happening to your child. In addition to the resources provided by the International OCD Foundation, Jumo Health offers a variety of informative resources to continue the dialogue concerning OCD in kids. Key talking points and learning materials are available for both parents and children.

Whether your child’s diagnosis is new or you’re simply in need of clarification on the next steps to take, you can find a free discussion guide download on Jumo’s site. It can be overwhelming to know where to begin and know what to ask. The discussion guide includes 5 simple questions to ask at your child’s next doctor’s appointment. Prompts such as, “why does my child have OCD?” or “what treatments are available for OCD?” can steer your conversation in the most efficient manner. It may also lead to you asking questions you may have never thought to ask.

Additionally, Jumo offers a digital comic book, “Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). As previously discussed on our blog, the comic follows the journey of Tia, a 10 year old girl with OCD. The Medikidz are able to help Tia understand what OCD is, why she isn’t alone, and how treatment can help her to manage her thoughts. It’s a great resource that introduces kids to a main character that is experiencing the same problems, and feeling the same emotions as them. When children are able to identify themselves in another person, it allows them the comfort to know that they are not alone.

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