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What are clues that my child needs emotional counseling?

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Boy with head on stack of books

In this article, you’ll find answers to questions like:

1. What are general red flags?
2. What are specific signs?
3. Who can help?

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 linger too long and your child seems overly mad, sad, angry or upset, you should trust your instincts and reach out for help.

1. WHAT ARE GENERAL RED FLAGS?

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 persist, 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 you to determine whether your child is acting out of the ordinary.

“Warning signs or red flags 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.”

2. WHAT ARE SPECIFIC SIGNS?

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

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

3. WHO CAN HELP?

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, 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. “Calls to 211 are free and confidential” and answered in English, Spanish and Creole.

Mental Health America of Palm Beach County has free online screening tools for parents and a helpline, says Pam Gionfriddo, the former chief executive officer. Screening topics include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress syndrome and psychosis. People are encouraged to call with questions about their screening results.

“Depression or anxiety can affect any family,” Gionfriddo says. “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 also can call Palm Beach County's Children's Behavioral Health Collaborative, which can help with common issues such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, anger management, anxiety, fears, phobias and more.

The collaborative comprises five local mental health and counseling organizations working together to assess and treat children's mental health needs. The Center for Child Counseling is one of those organizations, at 561-244-9499.

SOURCES:

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

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