Early Intervention Is Critical for Managing Youth Mental Illness

When is it time for a professional evaluation? Questions to consider.

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Whether you’re a parent who has suddenly noticed some worrisome signs of anxiety or depression in your child or a teacher watching a teen struggle in school, it’s important not to ignore it.

Did you know that 20% of teens are affected by some type of mental illness? And, suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States among young people ages 15-24. Plus, research shows that kids who dropout of high school are more likely to struggle with a mental illness.

As parents and adults, it can be difficult to discern between “typical” teen behavior versus when it might be time to seek a psychological evaluation.

Questions to consider if you suspect a youth needs intervention

  • Is there a family history of mental health issues?
  • Is the behavior or symptoms significantly disrupting the child’s life or yours?
  • Is he/she or the family miserable?
  • Has the youth told you they have harmed themselves, have thoughts of suicide or don’t believe things will ever get better?
  • Have they expressed wanting to seek help?
  • Has your child sought help elsewhere (school counselor, online, friend, etc.)?
  • Is your child partaking in risky behaviors you don’t condone?

If you answer “YES” to any of these questions, schedule an appointment with a mental health professional immediately. It is so important to validate the youth’s feelings and symptoms and provide support regardless of your own internal banter. If a kid is asking you for help or seeking help elsewhere, they need it! The worst thing a parent or adult can do is to minimize the situation or the child’s feelings.

Because of the shame and stigma associated with mental illness, most kids don’t willingly want to admit they need help. They don’t want to be different from their peers. If your child asks for help or you see worrisome symptoms, have them evaluated. Plus, early intervention can help mitigate problems that can be larger in scope and liability down the road.

One of the biggest takeaways I’ve learned from our family’s journey with mental illness is that we need to let go of both social and cultural expectations of achievement and what’s “normal” and do what’s best for kids, ourselves and family. It’s amazing how liberating it feels to accept yourself and loved ones for who they are.

Resources and help

  • www.NAMI.org is a great place to start. This organization provides information about local resources, information and tips, a hotline and a variety of other supports.
  • Take care of yourself as best you can. This can include nutrition, exercise, healthy sleep, meditation, therapy, friends or whatever makes you feel refreshed, strong and positive. If you feel good and can think clearly, you’ll be able to take better care of your family member.
  • Ask for help. Taking care of a mentally ill family member is consuming and will suck the life out of anybody. If you don’t have the time or energy to to do household chores, errands or other day-to-day tasks, hire someone, ask another family member, friend or neighbor.
  • Trust your intuition and gut. If something doesn’t feel right about what a doctor or professional says, don’t settle, push for answers or get another opinion.
  • Contact an advocate for support. www.NAMI.org provides several advocacy options.

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