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Child Adolescent Mental Health Services: What You Need to Know

Heather Lyons, Ph.D.

aking care of your mental health is an essential component of your overall health at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence to adulthood. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five children and adolescents has a mental health disorder, but only half seek treatment.

For many adults with mental health conditions, the symptoms were present—but often not recognized or treated—during adolescence. For young people with mental health symptoms, starting treatment earlier can be more effective. It’s often easier to treat behavioral problems and mental health symptoms in children and adolescents than in adults, and early intervention can help prevent severe problems in adulthood.

Especially during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, accessing mental healthcare can feel like a daunting task. Whether you’re a parent or teenager, here’s what you need to know about child mental health and adolescent mental health services.

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Warning Signs in Children and Adolescents

It can be challenging to tell whether troubling behaviors in infants, children, and adolescents are just a part of growing up or a mental health problem that requires professional help.

If you notice any warning signs or mental health symptoms that last for weeks or months, and if these issues affect your child’s ability to function at home and school, it’s essential to reach out to your pediatrician, clinician, or your child’s healthcare provider.

Warning signs in infants and young children include:

  • Frequent tantrums or intense irritability
  • Preoccupations with fears and worries
  • Complaints about frequent stomachaches with no known cause
  • Inability to sit quietly or calm down
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Poor academic performance

Signs that older children and adolescents may benefit from seeing an adolescent health specialist include:

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services

Children and adolescents struggling with mental health problems have many mental health services available, including:

Therapy

Adolescent mental health specialists offer individual, family, and group therapies to help with mental health challenges. While the best-fitting type of therapy will depend on your specific challenges, therapists offer a range of therapeutic approaches to create a personalized treatment plan based on your unique mental health needs.

If you’re struggling with serious mental health issues, child and adolescent inpatient mental health care services offer a wide variety of treatment options, including:

  • Individual therapy
  • Medication and dose management
  • Psychological screenings
  • Occupational therapy
  • Art and reactional therapy

School Resources

Many elementary, middle, and high schools offer mental health resources for parents and students. While some schools offer monthly visits from an adolescent health professional, psychologist, or pediatrics specialist, other schools keep specialists on staff to help students on an ongoing basis.

If your school has counselors or mental health resources available, schedule a meeting to learn more. In addition to on-site health services, many schools also offer psychological screenings to identify mental health problems in children, as well as referrals to outside therapists.

Physical Health Screenings

If you or your child is struggling with mental health symptoms, be sure to schedule a check-up with your pediatrician or primary care doctor. Many mental health diagnoses benefit from a combination of medication and therapy, and your doctor can provide a referral to a psychiatrist if needed.

Regular check-ups are also essential to explore or rule out any physical factors, such as learning disabilities or developmental delays, that may be contributing to mental health symptoms.

Social Support

It’s normal to feel like withdrawing from friends and family members if you’re struggling with your mental health. Especially during COVID-19, adolescents may have a particularly hard time communicating with loved ones and seeking help. However, it’s essential to stay connected, and reaching out to loved ones can help you feel more understood, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

If you don’t feel comfortable opening up about your mental health to friends or family members, NAMI offers a wide range of online support group resources, as well as important information for friends and family members of those with mental health conditions.

Hotlines

It may be helpful for children, adolescents, and parents to save emergency numbers in case of a mental health emergency. For young people, the ability to seek immediate help on their own is important. Helpful numbers include:

If you or someone you know needs immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-TALK (8255) or 911.

Don’t Hesitate To Reach Out For Help If You Need It

Mental illnesses are common and treatable. If you are a child or teenager, talk to your parents or health care provider about your mental health symptoms. If you’re a parent and need help starting a conversation about your child’s health, visit MentalHealth.gov’s Parents and Caregivers page for tips. If you’re not sure where to go for help, ask your pediatrician, medical director, or pediatric nurse practitioner for a referral to a mental health consultant.

If you’re struggling or your child is struggling with poor mental health, reach out to a mental health professional through WithTherapy. We’ll connect you to a therapist or counselor you feel comfortable with, regardless of your personal preferences and requirements. One of the licensed therapists on the WithTherapy platform will help manage your mental health and find the best treatment for your mental health needs.

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