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7 Signs Your Child May Need Mental Health Help

Child psychologist stresses early identification and treatment

Lisa Elliott, a licensed psychologist and clinic manager of Cook Children’s Psychology Department in Denton, has heard multiple reasons/explanations/excuses from parents as to why they have not sought mental health help for their child. Some of the most common reasons include parents are worried about their child being labeled and that the label will hurt them further. Other explanations have included not recognizing that their child’s behavior is actually due to a mental health and/or health problem and not solely behavior, while another reason is fear or shame associated with the social stigma of a mental health problem.

Elliott knows it can be difficult for parents to come to grips with mental health issues their child may be experiencing.

“Regardless of the reason for the mental or behavioral health illness, we have to be responsive to our children immediately,” Elliott said. “Parents sometimes wait until it’s too late to seek help before harm comes to the child or someone else, simply hoping the problem resolves itself over time.”

Parents have reported not knowing where to turn for help or having the time and funds to navigate obtaining appropriate care.

Childhood mental illness occurs in about 20 percent of all children in any given year, according to the U.S. Surgeon General. Nearly 5 million children in America have some type of mental illness, yet experts estimate that only 20 percent of them will receive treatment.

“Early identification and treatment is critical and can be a lifesaver for the child,” Elliott said. “In addition, treatment can be beneficial for all of the child’s relationships and success in school.”

Elliott offers these early warning signs:

  1. Significant mood changes, including sadness, depression, withdrawal, irritability or rages
  2. Intense feelings with little ability to manage the feelings, including anxiety, fear and panic symptoms
  3. Behavior changes including aggressiveness, dangerous behavior, and homicidal thoughts or changes in appearance, friends, interests
  4. Physical harm including self-harm and suicidal thoughts/attempts
  5. Substance abuse
  6. Lack of self-care including, lack of cleanliness, not eat or over eating, sleep disturbances, weight changes, pays little attention to physical health, doesn’t care about homework
  7. Change in functioning including inability to concentrate, easily irritated/frustrated, gets into fights/arguments, unable to get along with others, cannot complete projects/work

If parents note any of these changes they are encouraged to speak to their child’s doctor or find a specialist such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker or licensed counselor.

“A proper diagnosis is essential for guiding treatment; and this process may include a health examination and/or psychological testing,” Elliott said. “Treatment may include medications, psychotherapy which includes teaching your child coping tools and how to respond to challenging situation, as well as helping parent training/skills.”

Other resources that provide information to help parents include, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), National Institute of Mental Health, Mental Health America.

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great article