Think Your Child Has a Mental Disorder? Here’s What to Do

Parents worry when their child exhibits unusual behavior, and we start to think that our child might have a mental disorder. In the wake of a courageous mother’s account, medical professionals shed light on diagnosing one of the most common illnesses afflicting children: mental illness.

Exactly how common and significant is parental doubt? The Child Mind Institute and I collaborated to poll about 400 parents throughout the country to find the answer to this question. 

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When parents discover a mental health issue in their child, 65 percent say it will take weeks or longer before they seek treatment. For the most part, it takes two years for a kid to be diagnosed if their parents see something amiss in their child’s mood or behavior.

Recent updates to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines call for pediatricians to conduct annual depression screenings on adolescents over 12.

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However, the evidence does not support routine screening of young children. Depression symptoms in children are distinct from those in teenagers and are generally characterized by behavioral concerns rather than emotional ones. In addition, younger children may not be able to convey their true feelings since they lack the vocabulary. Mental health diagnoses can be challenging, and parental input can be vital.

Because they didn’t want to overreact, most parents in our study said they would wait to visit a doctor. The truth is that seeking treatment for your child is never an overreaction, even if you discover afterward that she is okay. Mental illness is one of the children’s most common health problems in the United States.

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Adults who have battled mental illness can almost universally recall their struggles dating back to childhood. A study found that 10% to 14% of children under 5 suffer from major emotional issues. When a parent becomes concerned if their child has a mental disorder, here’s what they can immidiately do.

Immediately begin investigating the situation.

Nothing is standing in your way, as you investigate if your child has a mental disorder.

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A whopping 71% indicated they believe mental-health diagnoses are associated with shame, and only 36% said they would speak openly about their child’s illness if asked. Concerned parents should not be scared to seek professional help for their child’s mental health because of the stigma associated with doing so. Our best weapon against childhood mental illness is early intervention, and that is because it works. During this formative period of brain development, learning skills for coping with stress are most likely to become ingrained.

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Getting therapy for a child’s mental illness has been linked to improved academic performance and a more remarkable ability to bounce back from adversity. A parent’s impulse is to minimize her child’s distressing conduct, which is understandable. In addition to the usual meltdown over a ripped hot dog bun on the weekend, little ones are prone to morning temper tantrums about getting dressed or brushing their teeth. These emotional outbursts can be attributed to an undeveloped prefrontal cortex—the brain region that helps children think logically and control their emotions. Doctors agree. Every five-year-old has strong views about various topics, almost by definition.

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However, every day can feel like a roller coaster for parents and children developing mental health issues. Parental distress and dysfunction are easy to spot, and we urge you to do so. Their child seemed to be in a constant state of agitation. A typical childhood rite, such as the start of school or a birthday party, must be a challenge for him. Often, a child’s troubling conduct isn’t constant. They may generally behave at home but act out at school or daycare.

Demand Assistance by Moving Forward

For many parents, the real battle begins when their child needs medical attention and therapy for their mental disorder. Message forums for parents looking for a nearby mental health doctor who accepts their insurance are overflowing with frustrated parents.

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There are only about 8,300 child psychiatrists in the United States, but there are approximately 58,000 pediatricians (even in limited supply). Finding a specialist is time-consuming, but it pays off: Our lives were transformed when we learned that effective therapy is available and that it works. 

Your pediatrician is an excellent place to start if you’re concerned about your child’s mental health. After that, you’ll want to seek a qualified clinical social worker or a psychiatrist or psychologist who has experience treating children with your child’s particular problems. Experts and instructors who lack medical or mental health training should be avoided.

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If the clinician says yes and can give instances, you’ll know you’re in good hands. In addition, remember that parents know their children better than anybody; if your child doesn’t open up to a provider after a few visits or you notice no change after a few months, it’s time to look for a different doctor.

In less time than you may expect, the appropriate treatment, administered by the right practitioner, can have a powerful and long-lasting blow on your health. If a teen or an adult takes three years to see results from an intervention, four to six sessions might be enough for a young child.