Mental Illness and Children: What Parents Can Do

Reviewed Jun 30, 2017

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Summary

Treatment options include family counseling and medication.

Most common childhood illnesses such as strep throat or the flu come on quickly. The symptoms are hard to miss so parents respond quickly.

Mental illness is different. The changes are usually subtle. Slight changes in temperament, personality, or mood may be due to normal stress from school, family, or hormonal changes, especially during adolescence. These symptoms could also be caused by mental health problems.

Children are also affected by things such as worry about siblings, witnessing marital strife, the death of a relative, even bad weather, or other catastrophes in the news. Things that might seem insignificant to an adult can feel overwhelming to a child or teen.

Parents cannot completely insulate their child from the pain and disappointments that are part of life. An important part of childhood and adolescence is learning to deal with stressors and disappointments in a healthy way. Kids can learn healthy coping skills and continue to use these skills later in life. Parents can help children by modeling healthy coping skills.

Parents need to understand their child’s strengths, weaknesses, personality, and temperament, so when changes in mood or temperament occur and persist, their radar will alert them that something may be wrong.

A professional can help determine if the child is experiencing normal stress and adjustment problems, or if there is a more serious medical or mental health issue.

Diagnosis

The child’s pediatrician or family doctor is usually the best place to start because she knows the child’s medical history. Pediatricians and family medicine doctors are trained to understand child development and assess unusual symptoms. The child’s doctor will also make sure that there isn’t a medical reason for unusual behavior or mood changes. Diabetes, infection, head injury, and neurological and hormonal disorders are a few examples of many conditions that can mimic mental illness.

Often a pediatrician or family medicine doctor will refer a child or teen to a child psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor for further evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment. The health care professional will need a history and description of behavior and symptoms. Parents need to discuss any stresses at school or at home that the child may be experiencing.

Treatment

Most psychiatric disorders require individual and family counseling and sometimes medication. Talk with the health care professional and make sure treatment recommendations are understood, including any medications that are prescribed and their potential side effects. Ask how to support the child during treatment and what therapy is suggested for family members. 

Counseling

Individual and family counseling help both the parent and child understand and cope with the illness. Children and teens need support from caring supportive adults like their parents. Therefore, individual therapy alone is not the best course of care for children or teens. Family counseling can be very helpful so that caregivers understand the child’s symptoms, learn how to help, and learn about family dynamics that can promote recovery.

Family counseling can involve more than parents (for example, other adults who are involved in caretaking such as grandparents and stepparents). Family counseling also helps parents and caregivers learn how to cope with their fears and guilt in constructive ways.

Talking to a trained professional helps kids cope with difficult times and keep life in perspective. What they talk to their counselor about is confidential, so don’t press them for information.

Medication

Using medications to treat mental illness in children and teens is common. With most of these medicines it can take several weeks before symptoms improve. In some rare instances, these medicines have increased depression and suicide attempts among children; therefore, medication should only be used under the supervision of a medical professional.

Treatment should be a priority. Encourage the child to participate in counseling, and help him with appointments and managing any medications.

There is hope

When a child or teen is diagnosed with a mental illness, it causes concern for parents and other family members. Shock, disbelief, emotional pain, and a sense of losing control are common reactions. It may be hard to accept, in part, because there is a great deal of stigma associated with mental illness. Parents often blame themselves or circumstances beyond their control, and thus carry unnecessary guilt and worry.

Mental illness is treatable and most children can, and do, recover. Mental illness is caused by many, largely unknown, factors. Fretting about the cause will not help anyone and may make matters worse. The best way to help the child is to get involved in treatment and let him know how much he is loved. 

By Drew W. Edwards, MS, EdD

Summary

Treatment options include family counseling and medication.

Most common childhood illnesses such as strep throat or the flu come on quickly. The symptoms are hard to miss so parents respond quickly.

Mental illness is different. The changes are usually subtle. Slight changes in temperament, personality, or mood may be due to normal stress from school, family, or hormonal changes, especially during adolescence. These symptoms could also be caused by mental health problems.

Children are also affected by things such as worry about siblings, witnessing marital strife, the death of a relative, even bad weather, or other catastrophes in the news. Things that might seem insignificant to an adult can feel overwhelming to a child or teen.

Parents cannot completely insulate their child from the pain and disappointments that are part of life. An important part of childhood and adolescence is learning to deal with stressors and disappointments in a healthy way. Kids can learn healthy coping skills and continue to use these skills later in life. Parents can help children by modeling healthy coping skills.

Parents need to understand their child’s strengths, weaknesses, personality, and temperament, so when changes in mood or temperament occur and persist, their radar will alert them that something may be wrong.

A professional can help determine if the child is experiencing normal stress and adjustment problems, or if there is a more serious medical or mental health issue.

Diagnosis

The child’s pediatrician or family doctor is usually the best place to start because she knows the child’s medical history. Pediatricians and family medicine doctors are trained to understand child development and assess unusual symptoms. The child’s doctor will also make sure that there isn’t a medical reason for unusual behavior or mood changes. Diabetes, infection, head injury, and neurological and hormonal disorders are a few examples of many conditions that can mimic mental illness.

Often a pediatrician or family medicine doctor will refer a child or teen to a child psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor for further evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment. The health care professional will need a history and description of behavior and symptoms. Parents need to discuss any stresses at school or at home that the child may be experiencing.

Treatment

Most psychiatric disorders require individual and family counseling and sometimes medication. Talk with the health care professional and make sure treatment recommendations are understood, including any medications that are prescribed and their potential side effects. Ask how to support the child during treatment and what therapy is suggested for family members. 

Counseling

Individual and family counseling help both the parent and child understand and cope with the illness. Children and teens need support from caring supportive adults like their parents. Therefore, individual therapy alone is not the best course of care for children or teens. Family counseling can be very helpful so that caregivers understand the child’s symptoms, learn how to help, and learn about family dynamics that can promote recovery.

Family counseling can involve more than parents (for example, other adults who are involved in caretaking such as grandparents and stepparents). Family counseling also helps parents and caregivers learn how to cope with their fears and guilt in constructive ways.

Talking to a trained professional helps kids cope with difficult times and keep life in perspective. What they talk to their counselor about is confidential, so don’t press them for information.

Medication

Using medications to treat mental illness in children and teens is common. With most of these medicines it can take several weeks before symptoms improve. In some rare instances, these medicines have increased depression and suicide attempts among children; therefore, medication should only be used under the supervision of a medical professional.

Treatment should be a priority. Encourage the child to participate in counseling, and help him with appointments and managing any medications.

There is hope

When a child or teen is diagnosed with a mental illness, it causes concern for parents and other family members. Shock, disbelief, emotional pain, and a sense of losing control are common reactions. It may be hard to accept, in part, because there is a great deal of stigma associated with mental illness. Parents often blame themselves or circumstances beyond their control, and thus carry unnecessary guilt and worry.

Mental illness is treatable and most children can, and do, recover. Mental illness is caused by many, largely unknown, factors. Fretting about the cause will not help anyone and may make matters worse. The best way to help the child is to get involved in treatment and let him know how much he is loved. 

By Drew W. Edwards, MS, EdD

Summary

Treatment options include family counseling and medication.

Most common childhood illnesses such as strep throat or the flu come on quickly. The symptoms are hard to miss so parents respond quickly.

Mental illness is different. The changes are usually subtle. Slight changes in temperament, personality, or mood may be due to normal stress from school, family, or hormonal changes, especially during adolescence. These symptoms could also be caused by mental health problems.

Children are also affected by things such as worry about siblings, witnessing marital strife, the death of a relative, even bad weather, or other catastrophes in the news. Things that might seem insignificant to an adult can feel overwhelming to a child or teen.

Parents cannot completely insulate their child from the pain and disappointments that are part of life. An important part of childhood and adolescence is learning to deal with stressors and disappointments in a healthy way. Kids can learn healthy coping skills and continue to use these skills later in life. Parents can help children by modeling healthy coping skills.

Parents need to understand their child’s strengths, weaknesses, personality, and temperament, so when changes in mood or temperament occur and persist, their radar will alert them that something may be wrong.

A professional can help determine if the child is experiencing normal stress and adjustment problems, or if there is a more serious medical or mental health issue.

Diagnosis

The child’s pediatrician or family doctor is usually the best place to start because she knows the child’s medical history. Pediatricians and family medicine doctors are trained to understand child development and assess unusual symptoms. The child’s doctor will also make sure that there isn’t a medical reason for unusual behavior or mood changes. Diabetes, infection, head injury, and neurological and hormonal disorders are a few examples of many conditions that can mimic mental illness.

Often a pediatrician or family medicine doctor will refer a child or teen to a child psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor for further evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment. The health care professional will need a history and description of behavior and symptoms. Parents need to discuss any stresses at school or at home that the child may be experiencing.

Treatment

Most psychiatric disorders require individual and family counseling and sometimes medication. Talk with the health care professional and make sure treatment recommendations are understood, including any medications that are prescribed and their potential side effects. Ask how to support the child during treatment and what therapy is suggested for family members. 

Counseling

Individual and family counseling help both the parent and child understand and cope with the illness. Children and teens need support from caring supportive adults like their parents. Therefore, individual therapy alone is not the best course of care for children or teens. Family counseling can be very helpful so that caregivers understand the child’s symptoms, learn how to help, and learn about family dynamics that can promote recovery.

Family counseling can involve more than parents (for example, other adults who are involved in caretaking such as grandparents and stepparents). Family counseling also helps parents and caregivers learn how to cope with their fears and guilt in constructive ways.

Talking to a trained professional helps kids cope with difficult times and keep life in perspective. What they talk to their counselor about is confidential, so don’t press them for information.

Medication

Using medications to treat mental illness in children and teens is common. With most of these medicines it can take several weeks before symptoms improve. In some rare instances, these medicines have increased depression and suicide attempts among children; therefore, medication should only be used under the supervision of a medical professional.

Treatment should be a priority. Encourage the child to participate in counseling, and help him with appointments and managing any medications.

There is hope

When a child or teen is diagnosed with a mental illness, it causes concern for parents and other family members. Shock, disbelief, emotional pain, and a sense of losing control are common reactions. It may be hard to accept, in part, because there is a great deal of stigma associated with mental illness. Parents often blame themselves or circumstances beyond their control, and thus carry unnecessary guilt and worry.

Mental illness is treatable and most children can, and do, recover. Mental illness is caused by many, largely unknown, factors. Fretting about the cause will not help anyone and may make matters worse. The best way to help the child is to get involved in treatment and let him know how much he is loved. 

By Drew W. Edwards, MS, EdD

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, health care, psychiatric, psychological or behavioral health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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