It can be extremely difficult when your child experiences mental health symptoms, but there is hope. Below are some actions you can take to help your child.
Learn About Mental Health
NAMI Basics: NAMI Basics is a six-session education program for parents, caregivers and other family who provide care for youth who are experiencing mental health symptoms.
Worried your child has a mental health condition? Find out about warning signs for adolescents and transition age youth and ways to get help.
Share “Meet Little Monster,” a mental health coloring and activity book created by NAMI’s State Organization NAMI Washington for young children. The coloring book serves as a tool for kids to express and explore their feelings in a fun, creative and empowering way, as well as to help foster dialogue between children and the safe adults in their lives. It is available for download to families, organizations, teachers and young people across the country at no-cost in English as well as Spanish.
Have Frequent Conversations About Mental Health
Even if your child isn’t experiencing any difficulties, it’s always helpful to engage in frequent emotional “check-ins” starting early in life. If your child sees this as a routine part of family life, they will likely feel more comfortable coming to you when they experience challenges. Additionally, if you notice something seems off with your child and ask them about it, they may be more receptive to sharing with you. More on how to talk about mental health.
Listen And Validate Their Experiences
While you may not understand what is upsetting your child, creating a safe space (a place where your child can share openly without fear of retaliation) at home can suggest that you are eager to hear about their life in a supportive, non-judgmental way. This paves the way for your child to see you as an ally, not as a judge.
Get Feedback From Others
While your observations and perceptions may be accurate, consider talking with siblings, other family members, teachers, coaches, clergy — or anyone in your community who knows your child — to see if they have noticed changes in behavior. Hearing others’ perspectives may help to determine how severe the problem is and to decide what the next steps should be.
Get A Professional Opinion
If you are concerned, there is no harm in talking to your pediatrician or other health care professional about whether they think your child could benefit from seeing a mental health professional. They can also be helpful in providing resources or referrals in your community. Find out more about finding a mental health help for your child.
Get Crisis Help
A mental health crisis is when your child is at risk of harming themselves or others, or if their emotions and behavior seem extreme and out of control. Recognizing that your child is experiencing a mental health crisis can be difficult. You may not be sure what constitutes a crisis situation versus a “bad day” or “phase.” You may feel scared — perhaps you feel unsure of how to protect your child. Combine this with navigating a complicated school and health care system and a lack of resources for people struggling with a mental health crisis, and it’s easy to feel discouraged. Remember to trust your instincts. You are the expert on your child. Even in this complicated situation, the certainties are that you love them the most, you know them the best and you will do whatever is necessary to keep your child safe.
Warning signs of mental health crisis may include:
- Expressing suicidal thoughts, either through explicit statements such as “I want to die” or more vague statements such as “I don’t want to be here anymore” (find out how to prevent suicide with our guide and find out more on youth suicide prevention here)
- Making threats to harm others or themselves
- Engaging in self-injurious behavior, such as cutting or burning
- Expressing severe agitation and aggression, including physical aggression, destruction of property, hostility, etc.
- Experiencing hallucinations or delusions
- Isolating themselves from friends and family
For Immediate Danger: Once you suspect that your child is in crisis, you will have some decisions to make. How you proceed depends on whether they are in immediate danger and the resources available in your community. If you feel that your child’s life or someone else’s life is in danger, this is an emergency — you must take immediate action to keep everyone safe. Call 988 for mental health and suicide crisis. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting NAMI to 741741 or reach the California Youth Crisis line at 800-843-5200, or go to your nearest emergency room. Under no circumstances should you leave them alone.
When There’s No Immediate Danger: If you are confident that your child is not at immediate risk, and that you can manage the situation, consider the following steps. Keep in mind that even if it’s not a physical “emergency,” it is still an urgent situation that should be addressed as quickly as possible.
- Create a safe space for them to talk about their feelings and actively listen. It’s ok to ask questions, but most importantly, reassure them that you are here to support and help them.
- If your child is already receiving mental health treatment, get in touch with their psychiatrist or therapist. They can provide guidance on what to do next, incorporating their knowledge of your child and the current situation.
- If your child is not currently receiving treatment, they will need a mental health assessment. Connecting with mental health services for children can be a challenge, but primary care physicians are often able to provide screenings and referrals.
- Connect with 988 or a text line that provides crisis intervention services and resources, such as Crisis Text Line or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
- Proactively create a crisis plan to determine your plan of action if your child’s mental health ever escalates to an emergency. Part of creating that crisis plan is determining how to keep other children in your household safe during this type of emergency.
Get Your Child Support at School
As a parent or caregiver, it can be frustrating to watch your child struggle at school with behavioral, emotional, learning or attention issues and not know how to help them. Find out more in NAMI’s guide to getting your child mental health support and accommodations in school.
Also, you can request an Ending the Silence presentation at your child’s school. Ending the Silence is NAMI’s groundbreaking school program designed to give students, teachers, and parents an opportunity to learn about mental illness through an informative presentation. Our Westside Los Angeles team speaks to middle and high school students about mental illness, including warning signs, facts, and statistics, and we share how they can get help for themselves or a friend. Research has shown that NAMI’s Ending the Silence for Students program is effective in changing middle and high school students’ knowledge and attitudes toward mental health conditions, and guiding them to seek help. Talk to your child’s school and submit your request.
Facts about suicide, warning signs, crisis support for individuals who are suicidal as well as their loved ones, and more.