There are many things that may prompt you to wonder whether you should seek mental health care for a child. Some have to do with mood: your child is unhappy or irritable or anxious a lot of the time. Some have to do with behavior: they are disruptive in school, in conflict at home, throw tantrums or can’t get along with other children. Some have to do with development: they’re not speaking or interacting like other kids their age.
Whatever the problem is, it can be hard to decide whether help is needed. Here are some reasons why getting care for your child may be a good idea.
Kids don’t usually grow out of mental health problems
Emotional and behavior problems that go untreated don’t usually get better on their own. Children are less likely to “grow out” of them than they are to “grow into” more serious conditions. Anxiety gets worse over time, not better. Behavior problems that are tolerable when kids are young can become out-of-control and even dangerous as they get older.
Early treatment works better
With most mental health problems, the earlier kids get treatment, the more effective it is. Children, whose brains are still developing, are much more able to “unlearn” negative ways of thinking or behaving than adults are. Most mental health problems left untreated in childhood become more difficult to treat in adulthood.
Kids who are struggling miss out on a lot
There are big costs to a child who goes for years without getting care. Kids who are struggling with anxiety or depression are not only in distress, they are missing out on important experiences. When they avoid activities because they are anxious or sad, they miss out on chances to build confidence as well as social skills.
Kids who are struggling develop poor self-esteem
Kids who can’t control their behavior — who act out in school, who have trouble making friends, who clash with the important adults in their lives — get a lot of negative feedback. They can start to think of themselves as bad. And kids who are having difficulty keeping up with other kids in school, because of attention or learning challenges, start to think that there is something wrong with them. Or that they’re stupid. All of these things undermine their self-esteem.
Care can help the whole family
There are no guarantees that help from a mental health professional will solve all of a child’s problems. But diagnosis and treatment can turn things around for kids who are struggling, and set them up to be happier, more successful adults. And because the whole family is affected by a child who is struggling, the right treatment can make the whole family feel better.
Return to Connect to Care for more information about getting kids help.