Parents aren’t discussing kids’ mental health with doctors
Many parents won’t discuss behavioral or emotional issues with their child’s doctors, nearly half saying they don’t believe they are medical problems, according to a recent study.
Forty percent of parents said they prefer to handle the issues themselves, according to research from the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Thirty percent also said they would rather speak to someone other than a doctor.
“If a child were to sustain an injury during sports, a parent wouldn’t forego medical treatment and try to handle it themselves,” says Dr. Tiffany Groen, family and preventative medicine physician at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill. “Mental health should be no different.”
When asked about things such as their child having trouble organizing homework, seeming more worried or anxious than usual, or having temper tantrums that seem worse than other kids their age, more than 50 percent of parents said they would not seek advice from their child’s doctor.
“Physical problems are easily recognizable,” Dr. Groen says. “When a child is running a fever, you suspect they are ill and you treat it, but mental health can be less obvious. Many don’t think of emotional and behavioral issues as medical, but physical and mental health are closely intertwined.”
Dr. Groen says the stigma on mental health can exacerbate the problems, but parents must be open to professional intervention.
“We have done a good job in educating parents about the signs and symptoms of autism, and because of that they now play a key role in early detection,” says Dr. Groen. “We need to work closely with parents to help them recognize the signs of mental illness, as well. There is no shame in getting our children the help they need to be as healthy as they can be.”
Knowing the difference between behavior that is developmentally normal and behavior that may need to be addressed with a health care provider can also be difficult.
Dr. Groen suggests parents speak with their child’s pediatrician if their child is experiencing any of the following:
- Sudden changes in school performance, such as dropping grades
- Marked changes in sleeping or eating habits
- Loss of interest in things they used to enjoy, like social activities or hobbies
- Frequent, disruptive outbursts
- Increased hyperactivity
- Excessive anxiety, worrying or prolonged sadness
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