Warning Signs: When to Seek Help

Mental health concerns in children can be difficult for parents to identify. As a result, many of the children who could benefit from treatment do not get the help they need. Understanding the warning signs in children can help you take the steps needed to seeks early intervention services and avoid an escalation in symptoms.

So, what are the warning signs of mental health concerns in children?

  • Mood changes. Some of the things to look for include feelings of sadness or withdrawal that last two weeks or more or severe mood swings that result in problems in relationships at home or school.
  • Intense feelings. Watch for feelings of overwhelming fear which show up for seemingly no reason — sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing — or reported worries or fears which are intense enough to interfere with daily activities.
  • Behavior changes. Look for significant changes in behavior or personality, as well as dangerous or highly impulsive behavior. Frequent fights; using weapons; and threatening to injure, maim or kill others can also be warning signs.
  • Difficulty concentrating. Look out for signs of trouble sitting still or focusing, both of which could result in reports of poor performance in school.
  • Unexplained weight loss. Be aware of a sudden loss of appetite, frequent vomiting (may or may not be reported as induced) or use of laxatives, all of which might indicate the presence of an eating disorder.
  • Physical symptoms. When compared with adults, children with a mental health problem are more likely to develop headaches and stomachaches rather than sadness or anxiety.
  • Physical harm. At times a mental health condition leads to self-injury or self-harm behaviors. This involves actions in which the individual deliberately harms their own body, such as cutting or burning. Children with a mental health problem may also develop suicidal thoughts or actions.
  • Substance abuse. Some kids may also use drugs or alcohol to help cope with negative feelings.

If you are concerned about your child's mental health, consult with a mental health provider or your child’s doctor. Describe in detail the behavior that concerns you. You can also talk to your child's teacher, relatives who frequently interact with the child, or other caregivers to see if they have noticed any changes in behavior. This can be important information to also share with the mental health provider.



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