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The Informed Parent

When To Seek Mental Health Service

by Peter W. Welty, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Jul. 12, 2004

Parents of adolescents today often find themselves in a quandary when it comes to understanding this age group. The child may be exhibiting unusual or even strange behaviors. Perhaps the parents are worried that this child needs mental health services. What, exactly, would bring parents to this questionable conclusion?

Generally speaking, a child’s behavior should come to the attention of a mental health provider when there is a long-standing pattern of dysfunctional or maladaptive behaviors in the home, at school and in the community. This pattern of problems must supersede or interfere with the child’s usual everyday functioning and normal development.

For example, let’s say an adolescent begins to develop depression. These symptoms may manifest themselves at home with withdrawn, irritable behavior. Then, it becomes noticeable that there is a decrease in the child’s appetite, energy level, or interaction with his or her friends. At school, the child’s grades have fallen. He begins associating with different groups of kids, and drug or alcohol usage becomes a real concern. Additionally, sometimes, in teens, there may also be legal issues and other marked changes from previous behaviors. Suicidal thoughts or self-injurious behaviors begin to surface.

Speak with your child’s pediatrician to see whether his behaviors merit a mental health evaluation. Early detection, diagnosis, and follow-up, if necessary, will ensure that your child continues on a normal and appropriate developmental path to a happy, fulfilling adulthood.

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