For parents and guardians, each year of a child’s life brings new hurdles and challenges. Mental health among children is a growing concern. Knowing how to support a child’s mental health is just as important as knowing how to support their physical health.
While there are different levels of interventions to take if a child is struggling, knowing options and having a plan can help parents and guardians stay calm if an emergency should arise. In an emergency where the child is in danger of harming themselves or others, call 911.
Not every situation is an emergency, however. Some mental health concerns may show up gradually; it could be easy to write them off as having a bad day or changing their personality as they mature. Changes that last several weeks, or that interfere with their ability to do routine tasks, are notable and could be signs of a mental health issue. Here are some warning signs to watch for.
Making time to check in with a child about how they’re feeling is a good way to open a dialogue about mental health, beginning at a young age. It will become easier for the child to understand it’s safe to talk about their feelings if it’s a normal point of conversation at home – which will help if they encounter a difficult situation. Keeping an open ear, holding back judgement and validating their feelings is an important first step.
Finding a professional
If you’re concerned about your child’s behavior, engaging the help of a professional is an important step to supporting their health and well-being.
- Talk to a pediatrician: Pediatricians can do a quick evaluation and refer children to a mental health specialist. It may be easier to get an appointment through a referral.
- Talk to their school: Public schools are required by law to provide mental health care to students if their mental health is interfering with their academic or social life. Parents and guardians have the right to request an evaluation of their child and potentially develop an Individualized Education Plan.
Many areas have community mental health centers that may be able to offer support and resources to additional behavioral health treatment options.
Children in crisis
A mental health crisis can arise when you least expect it. If a child is at risk or harming themselves or others, or if their emotions or behavior seem extreme and out of control, the situation is a mental health crisis, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. This could mean suicidal thoughts, making threats of harm, cutting or burning themselves, being physically aggressive, hostile or destroying property, isolating themselves, or experiencing hallucinations or delusions.
If a child is in immediate danger to themselves or others, call 911. Be as specific as possible when you call to alert the police that the child is suffering a mental health emergency and describe their behaviors. If you feel you can safely transport the child, take them to the nearest emergency room. Do not leave the child alone. If the child is not in immediate danger to themselves or others, parents and caregivers should still treat the situation as one that should be addressed urgently.
- If the child already is receiving mental health treatment, contact their provider. The professional will offer guidance on next steps.
- If the child is not receiving mental health treatment, they need to be connected to a mental health professional for an assessment. Primary care providers can help make these connections.
- A hotline like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 can help if you can not immediately connect with a provider.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network can help members find an in-network mental health professional by calling behavioral health access lines listed below:
PPO: Behavioral Health Access Line | 1-800-762-2382
- A free and confidential resource that’s just a call away when you need immediate support. Behavioral health professionals answer, 24/7.
HMO: Behavioral Health Access Line | 1-800-482-5982
- Connect with a behavioral health clinician if you need help finding a mental health or substance use provider.
- Behavioral health clinicians are available for routine assistance from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For urgent concerns after hours, clinicians are also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
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