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Knowing When to Seek Treatment for Your Child

When to seek treatment for your child or teen

Knowing when to seek treatment for a mental health disorder is important for parents and families. Parents are often the first to suspect that their child or teen is challenged by feelings, behaviors, or environmental conditions that cause them to act disruptive, rebellious, or sad. This may include problems with:

  • Relationships

  • School

  • Sleeping

  • Eating

  • Substance abuse

  • Emotional expression

  • Coping

  • Attentiveness

  • Responsiveness

It's also important to know that people of different ages will show different symptoms and behaviors. Getting to know the common inappropriate behaviors of younger children and those of older, teen children will often help to identify any problems early when they can be treated more easily. It's important for families who suspect a problem in one, or more, of these areas to seek treatment as soon as possible. Treatment for mental health disorders is available.

What are the symptoms of problems in a younger child?

These are the most common symptoms of problems in a younger child. These symptoms require a psychiatric evaluation. Symptoms may include:

  • Significant decline in school performance or poor grades even though the child studies and tries hard to succeed

  • Little or no interest in activities previously enjoyed

  • Less interest in friends or family

  • Problems with sleep (for example, night terrors, nightmares, insomnia, or sleeping too much)

  • Hyperactivity

  • Continuous or frequent aggression or "acting out" (for periods longer than 6 months)

  • Continuous or frequent rebellion; opposition to authority and direction (for periods longer than 6 months)

  • Refusal to attend school on a regular or frequent basis

  • Excessive worry or anxiety

  • Excessive, regular temper tantrums (without explanation)

  • Thoughts or talk of suicide

These symptoms may look like other conditions. Always talk with your child's healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

What are the symptoms of problems in the older child or teen?

These are the most common symptoms of problems in an older child or teen. These symptoms require a psychiatric evaluation. But each teen may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Significant decline in school performance or poor grades even though the teen studies and tries hard to succeed

  • Withdrawal or decreased interest in activities previously enjoyed 

  • Disinterest in spending time with friends or family 

  • Substance (alcohol and drugs) abuse

  • Sleep disturbances (for example, persistent night terrors, nightmares, insomnia, or sleeping too much)

  • Depression (poor mood, negativity, or mood swings)

  • Appetite changes such as refusal to eat, excessive eating, food rituals, bingeing, or purging

  • Continuous or frequent aggression or "acting out" (for periods longer than 6 months)

  • Continuous or frequent rebellion; opposition to authority and direction (for periods longer than 6 months)

  • Continuous or frequent anger (for periods longer than 6 months)

  • Refusing to attend or skipping school

  • Excessive worry or anxiety

  • Self-injury

  • Threats to self or others

  • Thoughts of death

  • Thoughts or talk of suicide

  • Running away or threatening to run away

  • Destructive behaviors such as vandalism or other criminal activity

  • Sexually "acting out"

  • Lying or cheating

  • Many physical complaints

These symptoms may look like other conditions. Always talk with your child's healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Paul Ballas MD
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2020
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