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Mental illness is many things. Like physical illness, mental illness can affect anyone and has many forms. The first important point to see is that mental illness is not just one illness but is many illnesses. It will help you to think about it in this way. There is the part of the young person that thinks and understands. You can call this part the child's mind. There is the part that feels happy and sad, frightened and calm, angry and joyful. You can call this part the emotions. Also there is the part that does things and takes action based on what the youngster thinks and feels. You can call this part behavior. What is mental illness? The child's mind, emotions, and behavior normally work together as a team. When children become mentally ill, the three members of the team stop working together. They each start doing their thing and the child cannot get them to start working together again. Some kinds of mental illness affect the mind the most. The youngster is unable to think clearly and understand things the way they really are. The world becomes a strange and confusing place for him. Other kinds of mental illness affect emotions more and other kinds affect behavior more. Here is another important point. All types of mental illness affect the child's mind, emotions, and behavior to some extent and in some way. When this happens, the young person finds it very hard to keep the three members of the team under control and working together. Keep this problem of teamwork in mind as you think about these signs of mental illness. 39. Their moods jump from one extreme to the other and they cannot control them. It is important to make this point. When you see any of the signs in this section, your foster child needs a mental health evaluation and likely needs professional care. Having said that, it also is important for you to understand the signs and have some ideas about how to help the child at your home. There are several reasons why your foster child might have trouble controlling his mood and emotions. The most likely is stress or excitement. The child feels upset or very excited; and his emotions are a little out of hand. Here is the important part of the sign. He cannot control his feelings and mood. When a child gets excited or upset, he normally can settle down, at least for a few minutes. What you see is that he is having part of this sign. Both parts need to be there before you would say he has this sign. His moods are jumping to the extremes and he cannot control it. A hyperactive child or a child with serious behavior problems often shows both sides of the sign. He may be happy and full of energy one minute and flip into near violence the next. He may be happy one minute and withdrawn the next. The change can be dramatic. He cannot control this flipping back-and-forth without professional help. This has nothing to do with mental illness but needs your caring concern. Another cause of the problem is depression. A depressed child often does not act like you might expect her to act. You might think she would be in a down mood and not very active. Her depression may look like this but is just as likely to look quite different. One look of a child's depression fits this sign well. Her moods and emotions flip around. For example, she may be very up and have a lot of energy and then down and withdrawn. She may be friendly and then angry for no reason you can see. The important thing is to see she cannot stop it and needs help with her depression. Another cause of this sign is serious mental illness. If this is what is happening with your foster child, you would likely see one or more of the other signs in this section. Here is what to know. Arguing and getting upset with the child only makes things worse. It is not a problem that has anything to do with discipline or willfulness. Her emotions and reactions really are out of control. She cannot help it.


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