What To Do When Your Child Is Struggling With Mental Health Symptoms?

Many times, parents notice that their child is having difficulty with their mood or thoughts, but do not understand why. Their child may seem depressed or anxious, but they are unsure what is triggering these emotions.  Other times, children may be dealing with stress or grief after the death of a loved one, or from leaving a friend group after relocating to another school.  Parents are concerned when their child cannot seem to help themselves and continue to experience troubling emotions.  Many parents are unsure about how to help their child with mental health symptoms.

Mental health symptoms can significantly interfere with a child’s development, behavior, school performance and overall quality of life.  Although changes in mood and thinking are expected as a child matures, some changes are extreme and are actually warning signs that a child may need professional help.

What can a parent do when their child is struggling with mental health symptoms?

The first thing parents can do is know the warning signs.

Be aware of seven warning signs that indicate the possibility that your child may be experiencing a mental health crisis:

  1. Withdrawal and avoidance from usual social activities and routines
  2. Outburst of anger and irritability that seem impulsive and extreme
  3. Behaviors that are risky and harmful to themselves and/or others
  4. Extreme changes in mood, personality and behavior that “are not like them.”
  5. Talking about death, suicide, wanting to not be here
  6. Gestures and behaviors indicating they are hurting, cutting or harming oneself
  7. Extreme sadness and grief after the death of someone:

Especially if the death was from suicide.

If you are concerned about any of the above warning signs, observe your child and try to talk with them to better understand. In many cases, your child may be dealing with a problematic situation that can be resolved with problem solving skills or open communication to better understand and share each other’s perception. However, some symptoms or behaviors may not resolve and in some cases, symptoms may get worse.

In a case where behaviors, thoughts and moods continue to interrupt your child’s development and quality of life, professional help may be warranted. Mental health professionals are qualified to assess, diagnose and treat mental health symptoms.  They can help to categorize the behavior to better understand and treat the problem.

Common disorders include, but are not limited to:

  1. Attention Deficit Disorders
  2. Autistic Spectrum Disorders
  3. Traumatic Events that cause symptoms
  4. Depression and other Mood Regulation challenges
  5. Psychosis or a type of thought disorder or
  6. Anxiety

What can a parent do?

The first step is to talk with your child’s pediatrician and explain your concerns.  Your child’s physician can rule out any medical condition that may explain symptoms. To prepare for the appointment, record your observations so you can provide the physician with as much information as possible about specific symptoms, behaviors and mood changes you have observed.  Provide a timeline that correlates with the symptoms.  Comfort and love your child.  Let them know you support them and will help them get relief from their symptoms by consulting with medical and mental health professionals.  Most pediatricians can direct you to a facility to follow-up with and directly address the mental health concerns of your child.  They may be aware of the resources and community mental health and government assisted health care plans.

How can parents locate mental health or substance abuse resources?

To locate resources in your area to address mental health and substance abuse concerns, go to Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The website provides a Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator where you can type in your address and find treatment facilities in your area confidentially and anonymously.  The site will provide you the address and phone number of facilities that you can contact for further information. The facility can provide an assessment and based on your child’s needs, can assign a mental health caseworker to help locate resources, identify treatment goals and connect the child and family to the appropriate available resources in the community.

If you would like to better understand the symptoms you or your child is experiencing, you can seek a psychological evaluation with Dr. Musarra.  To inquire about a psychological or substance abuse evaluation, contact Dr. Musarra at nancy@drnancymusarra.com or call (216) 954-5665.

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