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Mental Health Disorders

Knowing When to Seek Treatment

Knowing when to seek treatment for mental health disorders is important for parents and families. Many times, families, spouses, or friends are the first to suspect that their loved one is challenged by feelings, behaviors, and/or environmental conditions that cause them to act disruptive, rebellious, or sad. This may include, but is not limited to, problems with relationships with friends and/or family members, work, school, sleeping, eating, substance abuse, emotional expression, development, coping, attentiveness, and responsiveness. It's also important to know that people of different ages will exhibit different symptoms and behaviors. Familiarizing yourself with the common behaviors of children, adolescents, and adults that make it hard for them to adapt to situations will often help to identify any problems early when they can be treated. It's important for families who suspect a problem in one, or more, of these areas to seek treatment as soon as possible. Treatment for mental health disorders is available.

What are the symptoms of a potential problem in a young child?

The following are the most common symptoms of a potential emotional, behavioral, and/or developmental problem in the younger child, which makes a psychiatric evaluation necessary. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Significant decline in school performance or poor grades (even though the child studies and tries hard to succeed)

  • Withdrawal from activities, friends, family

  • Sleep disturbances (like night terrors, nightmares, insomnia, or hypersomnia)

  • Hyperactivity

  • Continuous or frequent aggression or "acting out" (for periods longer than 6 months)

  • Continuous or frequent rebellion; opposition to authority and direction (for periods longer than 6 months)

  • Refusal to attend school on a regular or frequent basis

  • Refusal to take part in school and/or family activities

  • Excessive worry and/or anxiety

  • Excessive, regular temper tantrums (without explanation)

The symptoms of a potential emotional, behavioral, and/or developmental problem may look like other conditions. Always talk with your child's health care provider for a diagnosis.

What are the symptoms of a potential problem in an adolescent?

The following are the most common symptoms of a potential emotional, behavioral, and/or developmental problem in the older, adolescent child, which makes a psychiatric evaluation necessary. However, each adolescent may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Significant decline in school performance or poor grades (even though the adolescent studies and tries hard to succeed)

  • Social withdrawal from activities, friends, and/or family

  • Substance (alcohol and drugs) abuse

  • Sleep disturbances (like persistent night terrors, nightmares, insomnia, or hypersomnia)

  • Depression (poor mood, negativity, mood swings)

  • Appetite changes (like refusal to eat, excessive eating, food rituals, bingeing, or purging)

  • Continuous or frequent aggression or "acting out" (for periods longer than 6 months)

  • Continuous or frequent rebellion; opposition to authority and direction (for periods longer than 6 months)

  • Continuous or frequent anger (for periods longer than 6 months)

  • Skipping school

  • Refusal to take part in school, family, sport, and/or social activities

  • Excessive worry and/or anxiety

  • Self-injurious behaviors

  • Threats to self or others

  • Thoughts of death

  • Thoughts and/or talk of suicide

  • Running away or threatening to run away

  • Destructive behaviors (like vandalism, or criminal activity)

  • Sexually "acting out"

  • Lying and/or cheating

  • Many physical complaints

The symptoms of a potential emotional, behavioral, and/or developmental problem may look like other conditions. Always talk with your adolescent's health care provider for a diagnosis.

What are the symptoms of a potential problem in an adult?

The following are the most common symptoms of a potential emotional, behavioral, and/or developmental problem in an adult, which necessitates a psychiatric evaluation. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Significant decline in work performance, poor work attendance, and/or lack of productivity

  • Social withdrawal from activities, friends, and/or family

  • Substance (alcohol and drugs) abuse

  • Sleep disturbances (like persistent nightmares, insomnia, hypersomnia, or flashbacks)

  • Depression (poor mood, negativity, or mood swings)

  • Appetite changes (like significant weight gain or loss)

  • Continuous or frequent aggression

  • Continuous or frequent anger (for periods longer than 6 months)

  • Excessive worry and/or anxiety

  • Threats to self or others

  • Thoughts of death

  • Thoughts and/or talk of suicide

  • Destructive behaviors (like criminal activity, or stealing)

  • Sexually "acting out"

  • Lying and/or cheating

  • Many physical complaints, including being constantly tense and/or frequent aches and pains that cannot be traced to a physical cause or injury

  • Sudden feelings of panic, dizziness, or increased heartbeat

  • Increased feelings of guilt, helplessness, and/or hopelessness

  • Decreased energy

The symptoms of a potential emotional, behavioral, and/or developmental problem may look like other conditions. Always talk with your child's health care provider for a diagnosis.

Publication Source: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. American Psychiatric Association. 2013, ed. 5, pp. 162-64.
Publication Source: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. American Psychiatric Association. 2013, ed. 5, pp. 222-25.
Online Source: The Depressed Child, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatryhttp://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/Facts_for_Families_Pages/The_Depressed_Child_04.aspx <a href="" target="_blank"></a>
Online Source: The Anxious Child, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatryhttp://www.aacap.org/App_Themes/AACAP/docs/facts_for_families/47_the_anxious_child.pdf <a href="" target="_blank"></a>
Online Source: What Is Depression? National Institute of Mental Healthhttp://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/index.shtml <a href="" target="_blank"></a>
Online Source: Treatment of Children with Mental Illness, National Institute of Mental Healthhttp://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/treatment-of-children-with-mental-illness-fact-sheet/index.shtml <a href="" target="_blank"></a>
Online Editor: Geller, Arlene
Online Medical Reviewer: Ballas, Paul, DO
Online Medical Reviewer: Nelson, Gail A., MS, APRN, BC
Last Annual Review Date: 5/23/2015
Date Last Modified: 7/21/2015
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