When To Get Help

When should we seek mental health services for our children?

While most parents recognize when their child needs medical attention, many miss the signs that their children could benefit from mental health services. I am not someone who is quick to pathologize children. In fact, I often prefer to work with parents to help their young child without the child receiving much individual treatment. It is common for kids to, at times, feel sad or misbehave. However, if you, as a parent or teacher, notice the symptoms below and the symptoms persist, it may be helpful to discuss your concerns with a psychotherapist that specializes in work with children and families.

What symptoms should you look for?  That often depends on the age of the child.
However, many of the symptoms overlap age categories.

For young children look for:

Regression to an earlier developmental phase such as :

  • toileting accidents after long period of being toilet trained
  • not sleeping through the night after a long period of doing so
  • an increase in whining or clinging behavior
  • an increase in nightmares or fears in general

For school age children look for:

Any of the previous symptoms plus:

  • increased oppositional behavior, such as defiance, losing temper,
  • arguing with adults
  • increased fearfulness and worry
  • desire to be alone all the time.
  • crying a lot
  • over reacting
  • being easily distracted or hyperactive
  • poor school performance
  • physical complaints
  • compulsive behaviors
  • not getting along with peers

For adolescents look for:

Any of the previous symptoms plus:

  • avoiding family and friends
  • loss of interest in things formerly enjoyed
  • often angry
  • trouble making decisions
  • talk of suicide
  • is very moody
  • feels sad or hopeless for no reason
  • anxiety
  • substance use
  • truancy
  • lying/stealing
  • overeating/forced vomiting/abuse of laxatives
  • excessive exercise
  • destroying property
  • hurting people or animals
  • fascination with fires
  • risky behaviors
  • lack of social contact with peers

Many children experience these symptoms from time to time. However, if
they are persistent and the child is feeling sad, depressed, hopeless, or overwhelmed, these could be signs they need help coping.

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