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Topic: Child Mental Health

Question: How do I know when it’s time to seek professional help for my child instead of just trying to manage things at home?

Stefanie Hanisch, M.D.
Child Psychiatry
Sanford Health

Expert's Response

I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, because every child, every family, and their circumstances are unique. However, the short answer is that you should seek professional help when the needs of the child and the family exceeds the resources that they have to continue to function somewhat normally.

I can think of a good example illustrating how every circumstance is unique. I hear concern from parents saying that their teenagers are spending a lot of time in their room, which they think indicates that their teen is isolating and depressed. However, it may be that teens have the best access to the Internet and social media in their room. This kind of access could allow teens to cope in healthy ways by keeping in contact with their peers. If this is the case, I don’t think it represents a cause for concern as long as there is open communication and a parent is regularly checking in. Ultimately, parents want to ensure that whatever their child is doing is healthy and good for their wellbeing. Otherwise, if it ends up that a child is doing something that is contributing to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness, then there is more cause for concern.

Additionally, it may be time to seek professional help if the child is not functioning the way that we would expect them to. For example, if the child is failing in school, not going to school, or not signing in to Zoom meetings. Or if the child is not eating, eating excessively, not showering, or not getting dressed. These things are all red flags that need to be explored and considered.