Helping Your Child with Mental Health Problems

When a child or adolescent has a mental health problem it can affect the whole family, because they usually have difficulty controlling their behavior, thinking or emotions.
Mental health problems in children can be expressed through angry, disruptive or hyperactive behavior or through withdrawal, worry, and emotional responses. Hyperactive behavior can be described like very active behavior, such that the child is fidgety, talks a lot, has difficulty remaining seated, has difficulty playing quietly, runs about or climbs excessively in inappropriate situations and is constantly on the go. These changes can affect your child’s ability to learn, communicate and have relationships.
Recognizing that your child has a mental health problem and seeking professional support are important first steps to take. Early support from healthcare professionals can help your whole family. The more information you can tell your healthcare professional, the better background they will have of your child’s issues.

A good first person to visit is your doctor. If you have documented the behaviors that concern you, share this with your doctor who can then make suggestions or refer you to other healthcare professionals.

You could also make an appointment with a child psychologist who can help with advice on:

  • how your approach to the behavior can support your child
  • how you and your family can cope with behavioral problems.

For more serious mental illnesses, you might be referred to a child and adolescent psychiatrist. Psychiatrists are specialist medical doctors who can check your child for any medical conditions, prescribe medications and admit your child to a hospital if needed.

How you specifically support your child will depend on you, what your child is experiencing, and advice from your mental health professional. As well as specific treatments and therapies, you can also create a supportive environment for your child by:

  • acknowledging and respecting your child’s feelings
  • listening to your child’s concerns
  • spending time with your children doing enjoyable activities
  • maintaining routines as much as possible – such as bedtime and meal times
  • building supportive relationships
  • speaking with your child’s school or childcare center
  • encouraging your child’s strengths.

Having a child with a mental illness can be exhausting. It is important to look after yourself so you can provide the best possible care for your family.

Some ideas to consider include:

  • taking time for yourself – consider getting respite from the trusted friend or your partner
  • working on any feelings of guilt – counseling can be very helpful
  • trying to manage stress and anxiety – such as through relaxation and meditation
  • getting professional support – counseling or parenting skills courses.

Parents of children with mental health difficulties have the great need for counseling for help with family relationships and for their own stress. You do not have to face the challenges alone. It might be time to get professional support if you are feeling overwhelmed with guilt, fatigue, grief or fear and anxiety.