Suspect a Problem?

Once a mental health problem is suspected, it is important to seek help quickly. Early identification and intervention can often prevent further problems from developing.

If you are a school or other child serving professional, follow your system’s established protocols when you have concerns about a child in your care. If you are uncertain of what those protocols are, ask your supervisor or administrator. Examples of the Oaklawn – school partnership protocol can be found on this website using the “Special Note to Schools” drop down box on the Home tab.

Families, however, don’t have established protocols to follow. It is common for parents to be confused about where to go for information and support when they suspect that their child may have a mental health concern. Some parents turn to their local library or to the internet for an online search. Others reach out to people they know — perhaps a trusted friend, family member or clergy – who can listen and hopefully provide support.

However, when problems grow or persist or when you are uncertain if the symptoms you notice are indicators of a potential problem, it is advisable to consult someone with advanced training and professional expertise in child development or mental health. Your child’s medical provider or pediatrician may be a good place to start. While they are not mental health professionals, physicians working with children understand child development and can recognize potential signs or symptoms of concern. They can also determine if medical factors might be contributing to your child’s symptoms. For instance, irritability in children may be caused by low blood sugar or by an undiagnosed ear infection. If the doctor believes there is a possibility of a mental health problem, he or she will make a referral to an appropriate specialist.

Another resource for those concerned about a child’s mental health is the counselor or social worker at the child’s school. Though a school counselor’s role does not include mental health assessment or treatment, counselors do have specialized training regarding children’s social and emotional health. A social worker may have specialized mental health training but mental health services may not be part of the role defined by the school. Counselors and social workers can provide guidance about the types of supports that may be available for your child at school and provide referrals to appropriate mental health professionals if indicated.

A really good resource for families or child serving professionals is the new SAMHSA publication, Identifying Mental Health & Substance Use Problems of Children and Adolescents – A Guide for Child Serving Orgs. This guide is written for personnel working in child-serving organizations and the families of the children (birth–12 years) and adolescents (13–22 years). Its purpose is to address the approaches, methods, and strategies used to identify mental health and substance use problems of high-risk children or youth in settings that serve either a broad spectrum of children and adolescents or a high-risk population. The seven settings addressed are: child welfare, early care and education, family/domestic violence/runaway shelters, juvenile justice, mental health and substance abuse treatment for co-occurring disorders, primary care and schools and out-of-school programs.

If you prefer to get connected with mental health resources without going through your child’s pediatrician or school counselor, this link to Local Resources on this website can help you connect directly with mental health providers in your community.

If you do not feel reassured by the response you get when you seek help for your child, it is perfectly acceptable to seek another opinion. Remember that as a parent, you know your child better than anyone, so if something does not seem right, trust your instincts and keep looking until you find resources that you feel address your child’s needs.



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