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Navigating Mental Health Treatment for Your Child or Teen

Press Release

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 20 percent of teens and young adults are dealing with a mental disorder. Of those adolescents, 50 percent developed their condition by 14 years old, and 75 percent by the time they turned 24. This data makes it evident that there is a risk for children and teens to suffer from mental illness, but it may not always be easy for those affected to speak up about what they are dealing with.

The Stigma of Seeking Behavioral Help for Your Child

For many young people just trying to fit in with their schoolmates and live a normal childhood, having a mental health condition can be scary. There is a stigma associated with mental illness that can lead to negative stereotypes and misconceptions. This can be especially difficult on an adolescent who may be teased or rejected by fellow students who don’t fully understand psychiatric disorders. Telling parents, teachers or even friends that they are struggling may make them feel different and alone. For this reason, a lot of kids aren’t getting treatment when they need it.

As a loved one of a child or teen, it’s important to be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of a potential mental illness. Oftentimes parents don’t understand these diseases or blame certain symptoms on teenage hormones. In other cases, guardians may look at the issues and deny there is a problem because they don’t want to believe anything is wrong with their child. But there is no shame in better understanding how to help your child if he or she is exhibiting certain behaviors. Children may not realize they have a condition or unnatural feelings and thoughts, so it’s critical for loved ones and support networks to be on aware of signs of mental disorders and risks dangerous behaviors.

Know the Influencing features of Mental Illness

Not every child or teen is going to develop a mental health condition, so understanding features in an individual’s life experience which may predispose his/her to having a mental health conditions is critical for parents and teachers.

  • Family History: Children with a family history or who have close relatives with mental illness are more likely to develop a condition.
  • Traumatic Experiences: A history of mental, emotional, physical or sexual abuse may also trigger conditions in a growing adolescent.
  • Physical Illness: The stress associated with poor health, a chronic physical health condition, or disease can trigger the development of a mental illness in young people, as having a chronic health condition can be very stressful and disheartening. In turn, people with a mental disorder often have worse physical health.
  • Stress: Increased stress levels or regular experiences with stressful situations may also contribute to the onset of a mental health condition.
  • Substance Abuse: When young people abuse substances, it is often because they are trying to cope with their mental illness and its side effects. Substance abuse may mimic or intensify the symptoms of a mental disorder. 

Know Suicide Risk Factors

Just as it is important to understand different influences of mental illness development in children and adolescents, recognizing risk factors associated with suicide is essential in working with children or adolescents who may be experiencing mood or behavioral challenges. If you know a young person who demonstrates ongoing depression, a lack of interest in things that were once enjoyed, hopelessness, anxiety and excessive worry, difficulty coping with daily challenges, changes in performance at school, or extreme emotional responses , it is important to get an assessment in addition to being informed of suicide risk factors. The mental health predispositions listed above are contributing risk factors in assessing suicide risk in individuals. Additionally, there are items to consider:

  • Suicide Attempts: Any sign or awareness of a suicide attempt should be treated as an emergency and requires immediate assessment.
  • Suicidal Ideation: This is an extremely serious risk factor. Parents need to be especially cognizant of suicidal thoughts or plans. These are not normal and can be one of the biggest indicators of a suicide attempt
  • Cultural or Religious Beliefs: The pressure to meet certain religious or cultural expectations can be extremely distressing for a child or teen and may contribute to the initiation of the onset of a mental illness. Similarly, certain religious beliefs may contradict cultural norms, which could confuse a young person and create anxiety over being different. Some cultures may even maintain that suicide may be an honorable option.
  • Access to Weapons: If a young person is dealing with an mental condition or experiencing extreme stress and has access to weapons, he or she may be more likely to consider an act of violence, either self-inflicted or toward others.

If any of these factors affect the child or teen in your life, it may be time to look into treatment opportunities. Chicago Lakeshore Hospital offers inpatient and outpatient care options to meet the needs of every adolescent looking for relief.

How Inpatient or Outpatient Treatment Is Determined

Every individual with mental illness is different and treatment for every patient should be customized for the best results. In some cases, inpatient care is necessary, while other situations can be controlled effectively with outpatient treatment. The best way to determine the right course of action is to schedule a mental health assessment with Chicago Lakeshore as soon as you start to see signs or have concerns of a problem. Whatever the result, there is no harm in requesting an assessment for your child.

An effective mental health assessment is administered by a qualified clinician who will speak to you and your child about the entire situation. The practitioner will ask about a broad scope of behaviors, family involvement and history, and additional potential risk factors to determine the best level of care for a patient. Any barriers to accessing mental health treatment, such as transportation constraints, funding or other health concerns, should also be evaluated before treatment is selected.

Many children and adolescents experience behavioral and psychiatric conditions, but are not a danger to themselves or others. If a patient does not demonstrate a safety concern, inpatient care is typically not recommended. Sometimes an concentrated therapeutic program may be more beneficial in comparison to traditional outpatient therapies;, and in these cases, intensive outpatient (IOP) or partial hospitalization (PHP) may be recommended.

About Child and Adolescent Inpatient Treatment

Hospitalization has to be determined by behaviors and risk, not preference. Within the first few days of hospitalization, estimated length of stay will be provided by your practitioner and clinical team. Our hospital does not want to keep any child or teen a single day longer than needed.

Discharge Planning for Inpatient Care

Discharge planning involves the child or teen’s entire support system , including family, teachers, school and service providers. These individuals are offered education on how to support the child/teen’s wellness and help them be successful outside of treatment. Discharge planning involves preparing for after-care, which may include IOP or PHP services outpatient or individual/group therapy, and/or medication. A child will be discharged when he or she can demonstrate the ability to be safe in a less restrictive setting and an appropriate discharge plan to meet the individual’s needs has been created

Advice for Parents

Parents and guardians who have any concerns about the mental health of a child or teenager need to be aware and looking for early warning signs and risk factors. Stay informed about what your child/teen is doing, how they are behaving in school, and how they are relating to their peers. Most importantly, don’t ignore the signs. As scary as it might be, there is no shame is seeking help, and resources are available. Start by doing a little bit of research to find what resources you have access to through your child’s school, community centers and community programs. If you think treatment is necessary, contact Chicago Lakeshore to help with the process.

Treatment for your child is a collaborative effort. We provide care in partnership with parents, patients and support systems to achieve a more comprehensive treatment plan. It’s important for everyone involved, including the school, parents, social workers, care givers, teachers, etc., to understand the individual needs and treatment goals for the child.

With the onset of many mental illnesses developing at a young age, it’s critical for parents to be informed, aware and prepared for the possibility of what that their child may experience. Whether you are ready to start treatment or are just looking for a way to approach your adolescent about a potential mental health concern, it helps to first understand the signs and how to help so you can provide adequate support. Mental illness in teens and children is much more common than many people realize, and there is no shame in seeking help. With the right treatment plan, young people who are suffering can live normal, functioning lives.

For any more information or to find out which child and adolescent treatment program is best for your son or daughter, call Chicago Lakeshore Hospital to schedule an assessment. In most cases, we can set up an assessment for the same day.