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Recognizing the signs of childhood depression or mental health issues

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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, parents 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 are severe or go on for a long time, says Renée Layman, chief executive officer for the Center for Child Counseling, which is funded in part by Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County.

Children may lack the vocabulary or maturity to explain their problems, so it’s often up to the parent or caregiver to determine whether their child is acting out of the ordinary.

“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 ways to find help.

First, you can call the 211 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast hotline any time of day or night. Trained resource specialists can assist with crisis intervention, suicide prevention, information, assessment and referrals to local community services for all ages.

“Early detection and intervention is key in helping children to have positive mental health outcomes as they transition into their teens and then on into adulthood,” says Patrice Schroeder, community relations specialist for 211 HelpLine. “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 youth and parents, as well as a hotline. 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 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.”

Parents can also call Palm Beach County's Children's Behavioral Health Collaborative, which includes five local mental health and counseling organizations working together to assess and treat children's mental health needs.

The Collaborative, 561-366-9400, can help with a number of common issues like, ADHD, depression, anger management, anxiety, fears and phobias and more.

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, 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
Children's Behavioral Health Collaborative

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