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Mental Health in Children and Teenagers: What Parents Should Know

Mental illness affects about 20 percent of the population and is not limited to adults. Children and teenagers can experience a variety of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Children and teenagers may be reluctant to seek help for these conditions because of stigma attached to mental illness, or fear of not fitting in with their peers. However, young people with untreated mental illness may be more at risk for other concerns, including:

  • Teen pregnancy
  • Substance abuse
  • Dropping out of school
  • Suicide 
  • Antisocial behavior

Because mental illness is treatable, seeking help for your child could prevent additional issues. 

What can I do for my child?

  • Take notice of any changes in your child's mood, appetite, weight, thinking, grades, and relationships. If sudden changes occur in any of these areas, and the changes last for more than two weeks, call a professional for an evaluation.
  • Reduce stigma surrounding mental illness by talking openly with your child about mental health and not making fun of people who are mentally ill. A child will be less likely to talk about a struggle they are having if they think you will believe that they are "crazy" or a "psycho."
  • Address your own mental health. Mental health is just as important as physical health. Work on your attitude, be open, learn to communicate well, and, if you have a mental illness, work with a treatment provider consistently.
  • Know what your child’s risk factors are. For instance, if your child has a learning disability, this can lead to a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness that could result in depression. A health care provider can help you identify risk factors so you can take a proactive approach in helping your child strengthen these areas.

Relating to Mental Illness, What are My Child's Rights and My Rights?

You and your child have the right to be treated with dignity and respect in all treatment environments. When you seek treatment, your health care provider will give you a consent for services, which will detail your rights and responsibilities. 

In Pennsylvania, children who are 14 and older have a right to seek confidential outpatient mental health services. However, you and your child may sign releases of information to allow your child's provider to communicate with you. Please keep in mind outpatient providers cannot force children into treatment. 

Children who are 14 and older may also seek inpatient care independently. However, their parents may also sign them into the hospital against their will upon doctor's advice.