Signs & Symptoms

Changes in a child or adolescent’s emotional functioning are considered concerning when their thoughts, feelings, or behavior become too difficult for them to manage and/or get in the way of their ability to cope with the every day demands of self-care, home, school, and/or relationships.


Children and adolescents are constantly stretching to meet physical and emotional milestones. Along the way, it is common to see mood changes, emotional swings, acting out, and poor judgment. With all of the expected social, emotional, and behavioral ups and downs of a young person’s development, how do we know when a problem may be emerging?

Most social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health problems and disorders have signs and symptoms that are detectable at home and at school long before the child is ever brought to the attention of professionals. In fact, the majority of adults with mental health disorders first experienced symptoms of that disorder while they were in childhood, but many of these problems went undetected and untreated for years.

With a physical illness, a child can usually tell an adult that something is wrong — a headache, an upset stomach, a cut or a bruise. With mental health concerns  a child is less likely to be able to tell you directly and you may need to decipher more subtle signs and symptoms.

Being aware of warning signs is one way to detect an emerging problem. Warning signs are changes in a person’s behaviors, thoughts, and/or feelings that last for an extended period of time (often a week or more) and that are maladaptive and out of character for that child or youth.

Knowing potential warning signs and symptoms and knowing when and how to make an appropriate mental health referral greatly increases the likelihood of early identification, timely intervention, and effective treatment.

* Sometimes because of the amount of time that care giving adults spend with the children in their care, signs and symptoms that might be evident to others are assumed to be “normal”.  However difficult, being open to the observations of others in these situations is important. 

Potential Warning Signs of Mental Health Concerns

Suicide Warning Signs

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