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How to Help Your Child Struggling with Mental Health Issues: 3 Steps

woman sitting with son looking at map

Raising a child with a mental health condition can be challenging, but there are ways to make life easier. Research shows that 1 in 5 kids experience or will experience a mental health condition. Mental health conditions are very common and you are not alone. Many parents have faced similar experiences with success. Here are some things to consider as you embark on the path to your child’s wellbeing.

1. Be Observant

Take notice of your child’s moods, behaviors and emotions. Some mental health conditions are cyclical, causing periods of strong symptoms that will come and go, while others aren’t visible. Children may also hide symptoms out of fear, embarrassment or doing what they believe is expected of them. A change in demeanor, habits or usual behavior, such as interactions with friends may be a sign that something is amiss. Early intervention is critical because mental health conditions often get worse if left untreated.

2. Recognize the Symptoms

After recognizing symptoms, your next step should be to schedule an appointment with a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist to obtain a diagnosis. If a specialist is not immediately available, contact your pediatrician or primary care clinician. Make sure that you provide them with as much detailed information as you can about your child, which can include:

  • Descriptions of symptoms, when they began and whether they have changed over time
  • Medical records, including mental health evaluations
  • Medications or other medical treatments

If a doctor, psychologist or counselor does not provide a diagnosis or referral for your child, you should ask why and consider their reasoning. If you disagree, trust your instincts and seek a second opinion. It is often better to be cautious than to ignore a potentially serious problem.

Even though there are many treatment options available, it can be difficult to locate and secure the right one for your child. You can find directories of mental health professionals and treatment facilities through PsychologyToday and SAMHSA. You may also find it helpful to:

Learn As Much As You Can

Research your child’s mental health condition and learn as much as you can. There are parents likely dealing with the same experiences as you that can provide advice on how to find the best outcomes for your child. Look to resources, support groups, other parents and caregivers for inspiration on how to cope with a child’s mental health condition and manage their recovery.

Communicate With School

Make sure your child receives the appropriate care at school. Children with mental health conditions sometimes struggle in school without the proper guidance, leading to frustration and stress. Fortunately, the law requires that schools provide special services and accommodations to children with mental health conditions that interfere with their education. Talk to the administration at your child’s school to ensure he or she has access to these resources.

Talk With Your Child

You may sometimes become frustrated, but remember to remain respectful and understanding of your child’s feelings. Avoid getting angry at them for behaviors that are out of their control. This does not mean you can’t set limits or impose discipline, but you should set your expectations in consideration of your child’s mental health. Although difficult to accept, people who develop mental health conditions may never be the same as they were before. Expecting the same standards of behavior from before the onset of their mental health condition will only cause frustration and stress.

3. Support Your Family

Supporting a child with a mental health condition can be time-consuming, and it is easy to let your concern for them consume your life. Consider these tips for keeping balance in your life.

Find Time For Yourself

You can’t take care of your child if you don’t take care of yourself. You may need to adjust your lifestyle, but try to avoid letting the challenges posed by your child’s mental health condition make you neglect other important parts of your life. Sometimes stress can affect the mental health of a parent. If you begin to feel that you are struggling with sadness or anxiety, seek treatment. Caring for your own mental wellbeing will serve as a model for your child to follow.

Take Care Of Your Family

If you have other children, they may resent the attention placed on their sibling’s mental health challenges. Be sure to communicate what their sibling is going through and spend time with each of them. Keeping a happy and balanced family can reduce stress levels for everyone, and help alleviate symptoms of mental illness.

Get Your Family Involved

Try to get other members of your family involved. By working together, you may find some challenges and obstacles are easier to manage.

Try pharmacogenetics

Pharmacogenetics may be your key to achieving insight into the treatment of your child’s mental health condition. Genomind’s pharmacogenetic testing was created to assist clinicians in optimizing treatment decisions for patients with a mental illness. Results may ease the sometimes stressful process of finding the right medication for a child with a mental health condition. Learn more about Genomind’s testing and services and speak with your child’s clinician about whether the test is right for them. (For extra support, download our guide for starting that conversation.)

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