The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 1 in 5 children experience a mental health disorder each year. However, many parents have trouble recognizing when their child needs help. Some parents are reluctant to reach out for help, wondering if their child’s behavior is concerning, or simply a “normal” part of their development.
Most mental health conditions begin by age 24, but half of all mental illnesses emerge by the age of 14.
As a parent, it is important to know the marks of mental health problems in children, and signals that can indicate your child needs therapy. You do not need to wait until behaviors get really bad, or you feel your child is in danger. You can seek help at any point you feel your child is in need. When mental health issues are left untreated, they can worsen and create further problems down the road.
8 Signs Your Child Needs Therapy
- A Sudden Drop in School Performance (or a Lack of Showing Up)
Have you noticed your child’s grades dropping? Have they been getting in trouble at school? Have they skipped class, or been missing school completely? If your child is becoming less involved or interested in their academics, or avoiding school completely, that can indicate a deeper-seated mental health issue.
- Changes in Friend Groups
Making new friends is normal during childhood and adolescence, but dramatic changes in friend groups can indicate a bigger problem. Think about how your child is feeling when he or she arrives home each day. Does your child seem angry at their friends? Are they avoiding social events or conversations about friends? Or, have they started hanging out with an entirely new friend group you haven’t met, and avoiding old friends altogether? This can indicate something else is going on mentally.
- Destructive and Violent Behaviors
Is your child acting out, in destructive ways? Is he or she exhibiting violent behaviors, and quicker to anger than usual? Is anger preventing them from living happily or productively? Oftentimes, violent behaviors, including inducing pain to one’s self and others, can indicate a mental health condition. Destructive behaviors can also include substance abuse.
- Changes in Eating and Sleeping Habits
Is your child sleeping longer than usual? Conversely, is your child having trouble sleeping? Either situation could raise a red flag. The same can be applied to their eating habits. Is your child eating too much, or not eating enough? New eating habits can also signal issues with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
- Disruptive Behavior
In addition to destructive behavior, disruptive behaviors can also be cause for concern. Is your child acting out and defying against the rules? Is he or she talking back to older adults, or getting in trouble at school or with the law? Negative behaviors like fighting, talking back, and general disobedience can signal a mental health condition.
- Extreme Feelings like Sadness and Worry
Is your child showing unusual signs of anxiety, worry, or fear? Does your child seem excessively irritable or sad? If your child is showing feelings that are more extreme than typical, consider looking into professional therapy or support. Similarly, if your child is exhibiting extreme mood swings (such as extreme sadness to periods of elation) this could indicate a mental health concern.
- Withdrawal from Family and Friends
Social isolation is another sign of mental health conditions and an indication your child may need therapy. Is your child declining invitations from others at school? Has your child stopped hanging out with their friends? Do they lack an interest in spending time with peers? This type of behavior is especially concerning if your child is typically a social person.
- Talking about Death or Self-Harm
Suicide is becoming an increasing concern among children and teenagers. In fact, it is the second highest cause of death among people ages 10 to 18. If your child is talking about self-harm, or exhibiting signs of it, this is an extreme cause for concern. Self-destructive and high-risk behaviors like cutting, excessive risk taking, drug abuse, hitting are extremely worrisome and a clear sign a child needs therapy. Similarly, if a child has thoughts of suicide or killing others, this also requires immediate attention.
Does My Child Need Therapy, or Is It Normal Behavior?
There are a lot of changes that happen between childhood and adolescence. It is not uncommon, therefore, for children to act out or behave differently as they develop and mature. However, how can parents distinguish between normal behavior and negative behavior that requires therapy? Check out this article for tips on uncovering normal adolescent behavior vs. concerning mental health problems.
When Is the Right Time to Seek Therapy for a Child?
Many parents come to Turnbridge asking, “Is it too early to seek help for teen?” Some may second guess their call, wondering if their teen is just “going through a phase” or actually requires professional help. The truth is, it is never too early to seek professional support. However, it can be too late.
Remember, you know your child best. You know your child’s usual moods, attitudes, and habits. Trust your instincts and if you have concerns, do not be afraid to ask your child questions. Ask your child how they are feeling, if they are facing challenges at school, and if there is anything they want to talk about. If your child does not open up, but is showing the signs above, consider calling for professional support.
Therapy can be highly beneficial for children and adolescents, no matter what stage or severity of their mental health struggles. Mental illness can be treated with ongoing therapy and counseling.
According to the CDC, “Childhood mental disorders can be treated and managed. There are many treatment options based on the best and most current medical evidence… Early diagnosis and appropriate services for children and their families can make a difference in the lives of children with mental disorders.”
If you are seeking therapy for your child or teenager, and are unsure where to turn, you can always call Turnbridge for guidance. Turnbridge is a recognized mental health treatment center for adolescents and young adults struggling with mental illness, eating disorders, and substance abuse. Learn more by exploring our programs online, or calling 877-581-1793.