Knowing When to Seek Treatment for Behavioral or Mental Health Concerns About Your Child or Adolescent

When to seek treatment for your child or adolescent

Knowing when to seek treatment for behavioral or mental health concerns is important for parents and families. Many times, parents are the first to suspect that their child or adolescent is struggling with feelings, behaviors, and/or environmental conditions that contribute to disruptive behavior, fear/worry, or sadness. Problems might be seen in a child or adolescent’s relationships with friends and/or family members, school, sleeping, eating, or coping with stressful events. It is important to know that people of different ages will exhibit different symptoms and behaviors. 

What are the symptoms of a potential behavioral health problem in the children and adolescents?

The following are the most common symptoms of a potential emotional, behavioral, and/or developmental problem in children and adolescents. If your child experiences one or more of these, it may be time to seek consultation with a behavioral health specialist, such as a child and adolescent psychologist or psychiatrist. Symptoms may include:

• Significant decline in school performance or poor grades
• Withdrawal or spending more time alone
• Decreased interest in activities that your child previously enjoyed
• Decreased interest in spending time with friends or family
• Suspected substance (alcohol and drugs) abuse
• Sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep, waking during the night, inability to sleep alone, nightmares, or sleeping too much
• Depression (sad mood, negativity, irritability, mood swings)
• Appetite changes
• Frequent aggression or "acting out"
• Increased anger or irritability
• Refusing to attend school
• Excessive worry and/or anxiety
• Self-injurious behaviors
• Thoughts of death
• Thoughts and/or talk of suicide
• Many physical complaints that do not seem to be tied to a diagnosed medical problem

Families who suspect a problem in one or more of these areas should seek consultation as soon as possible. A child psychologist or other qualified mental health professional usually diagnoses behavioral or mental health disorders in children or adolescents following a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation. Treatment is available and effective at helping children and adolescents who struggle with behavioral or mental health issues. Early treatment may help prevent future problems.