Who Can Help?
When you realize that your child may have a mental health disorder and need professional help, it is sometimes difficult to know what to do next or where to go for help.
Often a good place to start is to set up an appointment to discuss your concerns with your child’s pediatrician or your family doctor. Pediatricians (doctors who specialize in treating children) know what is considered normal behavior for children at different ages. They can also determine if the problem is physical, rather than emotional. The doctor can decide if further medical tests are needed, and suggest additional steps to take.
If your doctor determines that the problem appears to be emotional rather than physical, they should refer your child to a mental health professional for an assessment. Social workers, psychiatrists, or psychologists can perform mental health assessments. Assessments can be provided through private practitioners, agencies or through your local community mental health service provider. More information about the different types of mental health service providers can be found by clicking here. The type of mental health professional you are referred to and where you go for the assessment will depend on a number of things including your child’s needs, your type of insurance and income status.
If your child does not have a pediatrician or family doctor you can instead contact your local Community Mental Health by calling the ACCESS center for a mental health screening. The Access number for your county can be found by clicking here.
Another option would be to contact your local or intermediate school district and ask for an evaluation, especially if your child is struggling at school as well as at home. Schools have a legal obligation to find and evaluate children (including infants, toddlers, preschoolers, children and youth) who may have disabilities in their districts. You can call your local school about your concerns and request an evaluation. You will also want to follow up your requests for school evaluation in writing. Once the school receives your request they will ask you to sign a Consent to Evaluate form giving them your permission to evaluate your child. The Consent to Evaluate form should list the types of testing they expect to complete. Once the school receives your signed request to evaluate form the school district will conduct an evaluation and hold a meeting to discuss their findings with you and other school personnel within 30 school days. The school evaluation will also help to determine if your child is eligible for any special services and supports at school to help them manage their mental health challenges and be successful in the school setting. The evaluation is done at no cost to your family. More information about school evaluations and special education can be found by clicking here.
Before contacting the doctor, school or Community Mental Health it may be helpful to make a list of your concerns and try to capture what has been happening and for how long. This will help ensure that you don’t forget any important details and that you have complete information ready to share so you are prepared to ask and answer questions. For more information about what to ask and what to share when trying to access mental health services for your child click here.
Keep in mind that it is important that you seek help for your child and family as soon as possible when you suspect that your child has a mental health problem. Sometimes your child’s doctor, CMH or school may not recognize your child’s difficulties as potential signs of a mental health problem and may dismiss your concerns. If this happens, don’t give up! If after talking to the doctor, school or CMH you are still concerned about your child, it is important for you to trust your instincts. You are the expert on your child and know your child better than anyone, so if you are concerned that the potential problems are not being addressed, seek a second opinion and feel free to call our statewide toll free number if you need help deciding what to do next.