When parents suspect their child may have a mental illness, often the first reaction is internal panic. While these feelings are natural, dwelling on them isn’t. Instead, consider the following advice from clinical psychologists.
1. Start With a Diagnosis
Often, parents’ intuition is spot on when they sense something amiss with their child’s mental health development. However, let this be a red flag to investigate rather than an indication to draw conclusions. Dr. Sherrie Campbell, a nationally-recognized clinical psychologist in California, tells Parentology, “If you think your child is mentally ill … have them tested by a psychiatrist or their school for a psychiatric evaluation.”
2. Find a Good Psychologist
It may seem natural for a child to continue to receive care from the mental health professional who provides the initial diagnosis. This may not always be possible. Dr. Virginia Boga, a clinical psychologist in New York, tells Parentology.
“Finding help for a child who suffers from mental illness is difficult. … The majority [of mental health professionals] are in California and New York. Many states barely have psychologists. Of this percentage, the majority are adult psychologists.”
Boga recommends using resources from your child’s school and local mental health clinics while continuing the search.
3. Rely on Health Insurance
Depending on the severity of the mental health condition, treatment may be expensive. NPR notes that a family could receive a quote as high as $100,000 per year for in-house treatment. For less serious conditions that don’t require institutionalization, the cost is lower.
MentalHealth.gov advises parents that Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Coverage Parity laws require most insurance companies cover the cost of mental health treatment. As several news reports have illustrated, companies often deny the claims anyway. Be prepared for this.
4. Apply for a Medicaid Waiver
If insurance companies don’t pay, the good news is some states have provisions that provide assistance.
Boga says the process to get a Medicaid waiver may prove difficult, but once successful, opens doors to a wide range of potential treatments. The more serious a child’s mental health conditions are — and the more expensive — the more important it is to pursue this benefit if allowed in your state.
5. Take Your Child to the Hospital
Boga says getting help for a mentally ill child should happen immediately. Presented with obstacles, “When a child is presenting with significant mental health symptoms and parents can’t find a place to take them for an assessment, bringing them to the emergency room will open up the doors to getting outpatient treatment.”
The Bottom Line
The most important steps parents can take is to seek out a proper diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible. If the child does have a mental health problem, the longer they wait, the more difficult it may become to take corrective measures.
What To Do If You Think Your Child Is Mentally Ill Sources
Virginia Boga, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist
Dr. Sherrie Campbell, But It’s Your Family
NPR: To Get Mental Health Help For a Child, Desperate Parents Relinquish Custody
MentalHealth.gov: Health Insurance and Mental Health Services
ABC Action News: U.S Congressman Demands Action After I-Team Finds Parents Give Up Custody for Mental Health Services