Several years ago, mental illnesses were thought to only affect adults. The fact is, even disorders like bipolar or manic depression are being seen in children as young as five. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, parents should be aware that children can suffer from depression, anxiety, ADHD and behavior disorders.
If your child’s behavior seems abnormal for them or they have recently experienced a traumatic event such as divorce or the death of a loved one, they may need to be evaluated. Sometimes trauma can cause a child or a teen to have difficulty with coping and they may experience symptoms of depression. A parent needs to recognize these changes and act on them.
This article is written to help parents seek out treatment for their child or teen. Unless you have had personal experience with treating mental illness, you may not know where to turn or what to expect. I am not a mental health professional and this advice is only based on my experience. Mental health professionals are trained to recognize and recommend treatment but ultimately, a parent needs to remember that they know their child better than anyone else. You will need to be your child’s advocate in their treatment and educating yourself will help you to better help your child.
The road to treatment can be a long, frustrating journey but there is no other option when it comes to your child’s health. The first thing that a parent needs to do is to take your child for a complete check-up. Your pediatrician needs to rule out any other reasons for your child’s symptoms such as a thyroid disorder which could cause symptoms of depression. You can talk to your child’s doctor about your concerns and see how they react. Pediatricians are sometimes not experienced with mental illness in children and unless they have had experience with other patients, their reactions may not be supportive of your concerns. You should not be surprised to hear that they are just going through a stage or even get comments about your discipline practices. You may have a pediatrician who will be supportive and even refer you to a child psychiatrist. If your child gets a clean bill of health, this is your next step.
Getting a mental health evaluation is usually done by a child psychiatrist. It can be costly (around $300) but this is about your child’s well-being. The doctor will ask for a complete family medical history including any history of substance abuse or mental illness. He/she will ask you many questions about your child from what their birth was like and when they reached different milestones such as walking or talking. The doctor will also ask why you brought the child in and that is when you will voice your concerns about the changes in behavior, sleeping, eating and moods. The doctor will then speak to your child. Do not expect your child’s psychiatrist to give you a diagnosis at the time of the evaluation. Mental illness is unlike diagnosing other illnesses. It takes time to fully evaluate a patient. With children or teens, it is harder. Many times they do not communicate their symptoms well even if they are talkative.
The hard part for parents is that we want to get our child well and it is frustrating to have to wait but this is to your child’s benefit. Accepting that it takes several appointments before a firm diagnosis is given is necessary. The other part of treatment is the issue of medication. The FDA has approved many different medications for use in the treatment of mental illnesses in children. They do have side effects and herein lies more frustration for parents.
The treatments for different disorders vary just as the patients reactions to medications and to the disorder itself. Everyone has different body chemistry and that is why mental illness is hard to treat sometimes. Not every disorder needs medication and not every disorder is life-long.
Beware of psychiatrists who are quick to prescribe medication. Unless your child has suicidal tendencies or is severely ill, medication can sometimes be given slowly. Doctors are only human and there are good and bad ones in every field of medicine.
Do not put off getting help for your child. Listen to your instincts and follow through. Undiagnosed mental illness can cause suicidal tendencies, substance abuse, increased risk of drop-out rates and alienation in social situations. Follow the links to get resources on where to get help and get educated about mental illness.