Do not panic! Mental health conditions are quite common and are present in around one in seven children aged 4-17 years.
Some of the most common mental health conditions that children present with include anxiety, depression and eating disorders.
What to do if you think your child has a mental health condition
How do I know if my child has a mental health condition?
Mental health conditions can sometimes be hard to identify. If you’re noticing some “red flags” in your child’s behaviour, such as changes in their mood, sleep, appetite, or concentration levels, or an increase in physical symptoms, such as unexplained weight loss, nausea and headaches, substance use, or self-harm, it may be best to talk to your child about seeing a GP.
When doing this, ensure you are always being supportive and understanding. Your GP will be able to recommend further assessment or intervention suited to your child’s needs.
How do I approach my child about seeking help?
Start by being there to listen. It is important that your child feels supported during this time. Remember, your child is probably dealing with a lot of unexpected feelings. They need to feel understood and know that they can trust you to help them. Try to support them without blaming them or making them feel like there is something “wrong” with them. Because there isn’t.
When listening to their concerns, guide them to seek help, but please do not expect immediate results. Sometimes behaviours and negative emotions can get worse before they get better.
Is seeking professional help expensive?
There are many bulk-billing GPs available to families who will be able to recommend the best assessment or intervention process for your child. The assessment or intervention may include a mental health care plan allowing up to ten Medicare rebated sessions in the calendar year.
Your doctor will usually refer you to a clinic, but you are also able to self-refer to a clinic of your choice.
What if my child doesn’t want to talk about it?
If you suspect something is amiss with your child, but they do not wish to discuss it, give them space. Keep in mind, it is always important to ensure your child is safe. If you believe your child is unsafe, such as in high risk cases, including self-harm or suicide, you may need to present them to the emergency department of a hospital.
Otherwise, build trust with your child by keeping open and transparent communication and provide options for accessing help, such as an appointment with their GP and child helplines.
Why is it important to seek help and a diagnosis?
It is vital for your child’s mental health that you seek professional help as early as possible, because early intervention can reduce the impact of the symptoms across your child’s lifetime.
A diagnosis can help to ensure that treatment is effective for their presenting concern.
What does the treatment process involve?
Treatment of mental health conditions may involve psychological intervention, medication, or both.
Your child’s GP and psychologist will ensure a thorough assessment of background information is gathered before looking at symptoms and deciding the best course of action with yourself and your child.
How can support groups help my child?
Support groups can help your child understand that they are not alone.
Normalising an experience is powerful, because it allows your child to identify that they are not the only one going through these feelings. It encourages them to see that there can be positive outcomes.
What if I am struggling?
It is important to seek help for yourself as well! Your own self-care is vital when supporting a child with a mental health condition. A support group for parents can help you if you are struggling, because you can share your challenges and concerns with a group of people with similar experiences. You are able to process with people who might “get it” better than other friends or family members.
You can also visit your GP for a referral under Medicare for parenting management skills, or generally for your own personal therapy.
Remember, it is important that you make the time to look after yourself. You cannot pour from an empty cup.