Like adults, children also suffer from depression, anxiety and uncontrolled behavior from time to time. What if these feelings have become an insurmountable problem for your child? When should you seek help for your child? A frank discussion with your pediatrician is a good place to begin understanding the seriousness of your child’s problem.
According to the Surgeon General at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “in the United States, 1 in 10 children and adolescents suffer from mental illness severe enough to cause some level of impairment. Yet, in any given year, it is estimated that less than 1 in 5 of these children identified as having a significant mental illness receives needed treatment. The long-term consequences of untreated childhood disorders are costly, in both human and fiscal terms.”

Unfortunately, there is a serious stigma that is placed on people with mental health issues. Because of this stigma emotional, developmental and behavioral needs cause much suffering in children. If families and the public are educated in identifying the early warning signs, the potential for making a difference in these children’s lives would be enormous. And as a result, the children and society will benefit in the long term.

In addition to social stigma, there is limited funding for mental health services once the family and society has identified the children in need. Many insurance plans do not cover anything “mental” even if treatment has been proven to be of benefit.

If you recognize any of these warning signs in your child, please seek medical help immediately:

• Feelings of sadness and hopelessness that will not go away;

• Sudden changes in school work and grades;
• Anxiety and worry, inability to concentrate;

• Unable to overcome the loss of a grandparent or parent;

• Anger, crying, overreacting to everyday things;

• Injuring animals;

• Damaging others property;

• Setting fires;

• Racing thoughts that are too rapid to follow;

• Suicidal thoughts;

• Hearing unexplained voices; and

• Spending time alone, avoiding family and friends.

Many services are available to help diagnosis emotional, behavioral and developmental problems in children. From your family physician seek referrals and information about treatments and services. Libraries are great sources of information. It is important to remember that even though mental problems can be painful and severe, help is available.

Excellent websites include:






The first step to treatment is to recognize and to accept that there may be a problem. The second is to understand that treatment is available and can help.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.