Child or adolescent with a mental health problem usually have difficulty controlling their emotions, thinking or behavior. This can affect the whole family.
We can express mental health problems in children through disruptive, angry or hyperactive behavior or through withdrawal, worry and emotional responses. These changes can affect your child’s ability to communicate, learn 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. If possible, before you consult your healthcare professional, keep a diary for a week or two that describes your child’s behavior and when and where it occurs. Your diary could include information about:
- the features of the behavioral change that concern you
- any patterns to the behavior
- how often the behavior occurs
- how long the behavior typically continues before it stops
- the time of day it occurs
- what was happening before the behavior began
- what happened after the behavior.
Other information that could be helpful includes what you think your child is feeling when they exhibit the behavior and how they communicate.
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 you and your family can cope with behavioral problems
- how your approach to the behavior can support your child.
For more serious mental illnesses, it might refer you 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 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. Even specific treatments and therapies will help your child, you can also create a supportive environment for your child by:
- spending time with your children doing enjoyable activities
- maintaining routines as much as possible
- building supportive relationships
- acknowledging and respecting your child’s feelings
- listening to your child’s concerns
- 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 care for your family. Some ideas to consider include:
- taking time for yourself
- working on any feelings of guilt
- trying to manage anxiety and stress
- getting professional support.
Parents of children with mental health difficulties greatly need to counsel for their own stress and for help with family relationships. You do not have to face the challenges alone. It might be time to get professional support if you are feeling overwhelmed with fatigue, grief, guilt or fear and anxiety.