When your child starts to act differently, it can be hard to know what to do or when mental health services can help.
Maybe your child is yelling at you in the grocery store and people are staring. Or you find yourself stunned and shocked when they begin saying upsetting things you wouldn’t expect from a child their age. Maybe their grades have suddenly dropped, and they just don’t seem interested in doing anything about it. Maybe they’ve started skipping school or coming home after curfew. They might be having dramatic mood swings from one moment to the next. Or maybe they are starting to wet the bed again, something they haven’t done in a long time.
You don’t know who to talk to or whether to talk to anyone. Parents (and children) sometimes feel this way because, unfortunately, there is a stigma around having a mental health condition. (A stigma is the belief that other people might think badly of you or your child because of their mental health condition, or that you or your child feel shame, disgrace, or just different because of it.) Or it might be hard to talk to people about your concerns because you’re afraid they’ll judge you and think that your child’s mental health condition is a direct reflection of parenting skills.
But, you really are not alone. About 1 in 5 children has a serious mental health condition at some point. If your child is struggling with challenging thoughts or behaviors, it’s important to get your child mental health help sooner rather than later.
You know your child better than anyone else, so you are probably the best person to know when they aren’t acting like themselves and need help. Here are some of the signs and symptoms to pay attention to:
If you see these signs, it’s very important to act. Begin by talking to your child about what you’re seeing that worries you, or find them a counselor or other mental health professional to talk with.
You can find mental health help by calling 2-1-1 and asking to get connected to your Local Mental Health Authority. You can also see our page on finding the right mental health resources for children for more ideas and people to call. Or you can connect with other parents in your area. You may also want to contact your health insurance program to see which mental health services they will cover.
If your child is nonverbal or has a speech delay, they might have a harder time letting you know they are having mental health challenges. Or you might have to look for different types of signs and symptoms. By acting out, for example, they might be trying to tell you they have a mental health need.
Here are some signs to look for and suggestions from other parents of children who are nonverbal or have a speech delay:
For all children, including those who are nonverbal or have a speech delay, you can treat mental health symptoms even without a diagnosis. If you believe your child has symptoms, look for professional help. The sooner, the better.
If you think your child is at risk of hurting themselves or someone else, they might be having a mental health crisis.
If so, your child needs help right away.
See our Supporting a Child Through a Mental Health Crisis page to learn more about signs of a crisis, what to do, and how to get help.