by Amber Keating, LCSW
Hearing that your child has been diagnosed with a mental health condition for the first time can be a frightening moment for a parent. Diagnostic labels–such as depression, bipolar disorder or PTSD — seem daunting, mainly because the stigma surrounding mental health issues impedes access to accurate and current information. The truth is, most mental health conditions are highly treatable. Countless people who live with these conditions lead happy, healthy and productive lives – especially when they have access to early intervention and treatment. “Knowledge is power” when it comes to doing what’s best for a child with a mental health issue. Here are some things to know.
Get the right diagnosis from the right practitioner. Pediatricians, school teachers and others with the best of intentions may suspect that a child has a mental health condition. But, only a mental health professional can accurately diagnose these conditions. Here are some of the clinicians who are qualified to do that:
• MSW or MFT – MSW is short for Master of Social Work, and MFT stands for Marriage and Family Therapy. There is some overlap in these two fields, and both are qualified to diagnose mental health conditions. Both MSWs and MFTs train in master’s degree programs and are experienced in counseling. However, MFTs are more focused on helping couples and family members overcome emotional, behavioral and psychological issues.
• Psychologist – A licensed psychologist will hold either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. They study the mind and behavior and, like MSWs and MFTs, they are experienced in counseling. In addition, psychologists are qualified to do psychological testing.
• Psychiatrist – Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MDs) who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. Along with experience in counseling and assessment, psychiatrists can legally prescribe medication.
Early Intervention and treatment is best. Diagnosing and treating mental health conditions early offers children their best chance to avoid the most severe symptoms, as well as achieve positive outcomes from treatment.
Stay connected with your child’s mental health provider, attend all appointments, and follow through with medication regiments, if they are prescribed. Qualified mental health practitioners are trained to offer your child what he or she needs most to control the symptoms of their condition. Make it a priority to stay in touch, and follow-up on recommendations.
Know you are not alone. There are support groups for parents with children who have mental health conditions. You can find groups throughout the nation through The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Also, check the internet for support groups near you that help parents with children who have specific mental health conditions, such as depression or bipolar disorder.
Remember that a mental health condition is not that different than a physical health condition. Some people have diabetes and take insulin. Others have asthma and use an inhaler. A mental health condition is no different. It is not a sign of weakness or a “flaw.” It is a medical condition that can be treated with therapy and/or medication.
Know that there are numerous successful people with mental health conditions. Focus on what your child can do with his or her future, not what they can’t. Successful people with mental health conditions can serve as positive examples for you and your child, including Lady Gaga, Kristen Bell, Pete Davidson and Michael Phelps.
Hearing that your child has been diagnosed with a mental health condition for the first time can be a frightening moment for a parent.