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Preschool age not too young for mental health issues

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Sometimes it's easy to see why your child's upset. Maybe a friend left or it's time for bed. But other times, it may be hard to tell why your child is sad or moody. Most young children lack the vocabulary or maturity to explain their problems. That leaves it up to adults to try to figure out what's wrong - and whether there's a serious issue troubling your little one.

Children can develop the same mental health issues as adults, but often express them differently. Parents and caregivers know their child best. So if a problem seems to be going on for a long time, and their child seems overly mad, sad, angry or upset, they should trust their instincts and reach out for help.

While temper tantrums and bad moods are usually a normal part of childhood, they might indicate an underlying mental health concern if they're extreme or go on for a very long time, says Renée Layman, chief executive officer for the Center for Child Counseling in Palm Beach Gardens, which is funded by Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County.

“Warning signs or red flags that your child may be struggling with mental health issues are if the behavioral changes are intense or out of proportion to stress or changes in the environment, which can include shutting down emotionally or displays of physical aggression,” Layman says. “A depressed child may show more irritability, where an adult typically shows sadness.”

Help for Palm Beach County families

If you’re a parent looking for answers, there are a number of community helplines you can call.

The first is Help Me Grow, run by 211 Palm Beach Treasure Coast, and funded in part by Children's Services Council.

“Early detection and intervention is key in helping children to have positive mental health outcomes,” says Patrice Schroeder, Community Relations specialist for 211. “Calls to 211 are free and confidential” and answered in English, Spanish and Creole.

The Mental Health Association of Palm Beach County also has free online screening tools for parents, as well as a helpline. Screening survey topics include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress syndrome and psychosis.

The association encourages people to call with questions about their screening results.

“Depression or anxiety can affect any family,” says Pam Gionfriddo, the association’s former chief executive officer. “We want to help families understand they are not alone. Call 561-801-HELP (4357) to talk with someone who cares and who can match you with someone who can help.”

Five signs your child may need counseling:

Parents know their own child better than anyone else and are the best people to assess whether their behaviors and emotions are out of the norm. Watch for:

• Mood changes (sadness, withdrawal, mood swings)
• Behavioral changes (wanting to hurt others, aggression, self-harm)
• Intense feelings (worries, fears, anxiety)
•.Physical symptoms (headaches, stomachaches)
• Concentration problems (trouble focusing or sitting still)

SOURCES:

• Pam Gionfriddo, former chief executive officer, Mental Health Association of Palm Beach County
• Patrice Schroeder, Community Relations specialist, 211 HelpLine
• Renée Layman, chief executive officer, Center for Child Counseling

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