In my 10 years of working with families, parents are getting better. They are acknowledging their child's mental health issue and actively taking steps to meet the challenge head on. Before we get to the suggestions, let's review a few signs of childhood mental illness.
Warning Signs of Childhood Mental Illness
Mood change. A shift in your child's mood that has lasted more than a few weeks and causes problems in relationships at home and school.
Behavior shift. Sudden changes in behavior, including dangerous and aggressive behavior, that causes problems in relationships at school or home.
Academic problems. Your child's academic performance has dropped sharply in the last year or even months.
Sleep. Your child sleeps significantly more or less than usual or has difficulty falling asleep.
Isolation. You don't hear about friends anymore. Your child spends most of the day in the bedroom and is no longer interested in hobbies or activities.
Substance abuse. Yes, drug and alcohol use is far too common. No, that doesn't make it okay or healthy. You may think it's just "teens being teens" but it might be more than that.
Tips To Consider If You Suspect Your Child May Have A Mental Illness
Consult your pediatrician. Not all pediatricians are well-versed in mental health issues but they can rule out medical issues. Sometimes a medical condition can present or lead to mental health issues.
Seek out professional psychological help. Usually your pediatrician can help with a referral. Google is also your friend. Search your local area for child psychologists and other mental health professionals.
Be patient. It's hard seeing your child struggle, and not having the answers. With that said, be patient. Find the right professional(s) for your child and your family.
Stay engaged. Sometimes it's easier to distance yourself from the issue. Stay committed and active. Participate in appointments and discussions. You know your child better than any doctor. I always encourage parents to share their thoughts and questions. It's invaluable.
Don't blame your child. Maybe this should be the first tip, because it's probably the most important. Be supportive. Your child is already feeling a number of emotions, no need to add guilt and shame.
Keep the communication lines open. Make sure your child knows they can talk about their feelings. Sometimes kids can feel ashamed and confused. It's important to try to keep communicating, even if only to listen.
It's a process. Mental health is messy. There isn't a clear cut cure for anxiety or depression. Each person is different and with that comes a unique treatment plan. Recognize that treatment is a process.
Find support for you. It's stressful and scary. It's also common to feel isolated and alone. Lean on family, clergy, friends, and even other families who are going through the same experience. You might be surprised (pleasantly in an odd way) by the support groups and helpful programs that are located close to you.
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