When I worked for a mental health non-profit, I loved working with the little kids. I had the opportunity to work one-on-one with children as young as three years old who were displaying concerning symptoms, & it was incredibly rewarding to watch their progress. When these very young children came to us, we were able to teach them coping skills from such a young age that they became a part of who they were, & their future became much brighter. Early intervention makes a world of difference in the world of mental health, but unfortunately it is not sought out often enough.
50% of adult mental disorders emerge by age 14.
13-20% of children in the U.S. experience a mental health disorder in a given year.
Only 1 in 5 of these children will receive treatment.
These very serious concerns are going undetected for two main reasons:
- Parents tend to downplay concerning behaviors & believe that their child will grow out of them.
- Health care providers need to screen for mental health disorders more regularly.
The good news is that primary care doctors & family nurse practitioners are paying closer attention to these issues, & they need the parents to partner with them in uncovering what will be best for their child. According to this article there are a few key things that primary care providers can do to help identify mental health disorders in children:
- Observe a child over time so that new & abnormal behaviors & development can be recognized.
- Implement screenings and engage in parental education to recognize early potential threats to a child’s well-being.
- Develop ongoing relationships that will help families overcome any hesitancy to seeking out mental health care.
- Refer children to the right specialists to help with more complex mental health problems, & then follow up & coordinate care throughout the process.
As a parent, it is important to be very involved in this process as well. This interview with a pediatric social worker gives you a good idea of what to expect when approaching the mental health system, & hopefully it puts aside some concerns. It is also important to talk to your family care provider about concerns that you may be having about your child. You are the person who knows your child best, & you are the one that will be able to detect if something seems to be a little out of the ordinary. The good news is that the earlier you tackle an issue, the easier it is to treat & move past it!
If you are not sure which behaviors are a normal part of development & which ones are cause for concern, you can refer to the list of the most common childhood mental health disorders here. The list includes details about ADHD, behavioral or conduct problems, anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorders, & Tourette syndrome as well as a comprehensive resource – A Practical Guide to Child & Adolescent Mental Health Screening, Early Intervention, & Health Promotion.
This information will provide a good base of knowledge & understanding, but it is also critical to find a primary care practice that values the importance of mental health & is willing to advocate for your child & your family as a whole. Look into options sooner rather than later, & your whole family will benefit from it!