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Mental Health Disorders in Youth

What to do if you suspect your child has a diagnosable condition.

Key points

  • Studies have shown an uptick in children's mental health disorders. If you suspect your child has a mental health disorder, seek support.
  • Once you understand your child's area(s) of need, contact their school. Call or email your child's teacher and school counselor.
  • Enquire about the types of student support plans that could be provided and the types of accommodations that these plans provide.
  • Creating a plan of action that aligns with your child's needs can ensure overall success.

Recent studies have demonstrated the prevalence of mental health conditions in youth. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about 1 in 5 children between the ages of 13-18 live with a serious mental health condition.

Moreover, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests that nearly half of all diagnosable childhood mental illnesses go untreated. This data has only increased since the onset of the COVID pandemic, as anxiety, depression, behavioral issues, and dilemmas involving childcare have been on a notable upward trajectory (JAMA).

Unfortunately, youth conditions involving mental health, behavioral health, or learning disabilities may go undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, or unrecognized. Causes of these circumstances are far-reaching and can include such elements as unreliable testing backdrops, inaccurate assumptions based on stereotypical identifiers, the similarity of symptoms between mental health conditions, and a youth’s ability to hide their conditions, to name a few. These phenomena can lead to improper support, or a lack thereof, which can be detrimental to a youth’s social, emotional, academic, and behavioral standing.

Taking Action: Initial Steps

If you suspect your child is suffering from a mental health condition, take action sooner rather than later to ensure steps that best align with their needs. The first step in this process includes recognizing the type of condition. Generally speaking, mental health disorders include biological, psychological, and behavioral factors that impact overall wellness (NAMI, n.d.). Behavioral disorders tend to circulate around actions and responses to the environment. Learning disabilities impact the ability to process, store, retrieve, and respond to information (NASET, 2022).

Once you understand your child’s area(s) of need, contact their school. Call or email your child’s teacher, school counselor, and possibly a member of the school administration. Share your concerns and request a meeting to share observations and determine the next steps. It may be a good idea to ask the school psychologist or a member of the school resource team to provide input. Typically, these staff members can also provide testing to determine tendencies towards specific disorders if requested or if the school suspects a disability or disorder is present.

During the interim between initial contact with the school and meeting with them to discuss the next steps, be sure to speak with other adults in your child’s life (coaches, after-school caretakers, tutors, etc.) to gain a sense of what they have observed. It would be helpful to talk to your child’s pediatrician as well. They may provide you with assessment scales and/or outside referrals for further data collection and support. You may also find it beneficial to consult with a mental health professional, as they can explain possible tests or diagnostic tools that could help paint a clear picture of your child’s needs.

Upon meeting with the school to determine the next steps, inquire about the types of student support plans that could be provided and the types of accommodations that these plans provide. Explore the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Due Process to ensure to inform yourself of your rights as a parent or guardian.

Document all interactions, observations, and notes you take during meetings. If possible, provide summaries after these interactions and meetings to stakeholders involved to ensure everyone is on the same page and moves forward with a strong understanding of roles and responsibilities.

If you suspect your child has a mental health disorder, seek support. With a proper diagnosis and treatment that aligns with their specific needs, your child can find success on all fronts.

To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

References

Introduction to Learning Disabilities (n.d.). The National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET). Retrieved October 2, 2022, from https://www.naset.org/index.php?id=2522

Lebrun-Harris, L. A., Ghandour, R. M., Kogan, M.D., Warren, M.D. (2022). Five-Year Trends in US Children's Health and Well-being, 2016-2020. JAMA Pediatrics. 2022;176(7):e220056. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2022.0056

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Mental Health Facts: Children & Teens. Retrieved October 2, 2022, from https://www.nami.org/nami/media/nami-media/infographics/children-mh-fac…

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