So many of the recent headlines about children and mental health are deeply distressing: Youth suicide attempts have doubled in the last decade, some in children as young as 5 years old. National estimates suggest that more than 4 million children in the United States have been diagnosed with anxiety, and nearly 2 million have been diagnosed with depression. Experts have argued that we’re in the midst of an epidemic of children’s mental health, and while awareness has certainly increased, only about 20 percent of kids with a diagnosable mental health disorder are actually getting the help they need.
It’s frightening stuff to grapple with as a parent. Yet mental health experts resoundingly agree that there is reason to have hope: Treatment, including therapy and medication, can make a profound difference in children’s lives.
The challenge is identifying whether your child would benefit from outside help, and then knowing how to go about getting it. Fortunately, experts say there are some common signs and behaviors to look out for, as well as simple best practices for connecting with treatment. Here are a few that all parents should be aware of.
First, a reminder: Some degree of acting out is normal
Sure, childhood can be great. But it can also be really, really hard. Kids are learning how to make their way in the world, coming up against obstacles and changing every day.
“All kids have emotions,” said Alexandra Hamlet, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist with the Mood Disorder Center at the Child Mind Institute. “Emotions aren’t bad, and kids will go through struggles. They’ll feel emotions and have to work through them, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they need therapy.”