Do you have concerns about your child’s mental health? Are you unsure how to access services? Your pediatrician’s office may be a good place to start.
Why talk with a pediatrician?
Some parents avoid talking with their child’s pediatrician about mental health because they think pediatric care is limited to physical concerns. Others feel uncomfortable discussing their child’s emotional and behavioral issues with anyone, including the pediatrician. But pediatricians want to know if their patients are struggling in any way- physically, socially, emotionally, behaviorally. And pediatricians have tools like screening questions, information, and referrals, that can help you access the help your child needs.
When to talk with a pediatrician
The annual well-check is a good time to talk with your pediatrician about concerns for your child’s mental health. Be as specific as you can about the situation – symptoms that you or others find concerning, disruptive behaviors, emotions that your child has trouble managing. Ask specific questions: Do you want your pediatrician to advise you on next steps? Would you like a referral to counseling or medication treatment? Your pediatrician may have questions about symptoms, reactions, behaviors, or situations relating to your child’s difficulties — take a few minutes before the appointment to decide how you would answer these types of questions.
In some cases, you may not have time to wait for the next well-check. It still makes sense to call your pediatrician’s office and let them know about your concerns. The pediatrician may want you to talk on the phone with them, or with a nurse or counselor. Or they may ask you to come in for an appointment to talk through options.
Pediatricians are here to help
Mightier recently interviewed groups of pediatricians to get a sense of their experiences caring for patients facing mental health challenges. Pediatricians told us that they had seen many children whose families were seeking support because of emotional outbursts. Providers were concerned about the negative consequences of chronic emotional dysregulation, including family stress and school disciplinary actions. When families raised child emotional dysregulation as a concern, providers usually referred their pediatric patients to therapy, and occasionally to psychiatry. Some pediatrician’s offices had counseling or psychiatry professionals on site; others offered referrals to external providers. Every pediatric provider we talked with was committed to treating the whole child by supporting their patients’ physical and mental well-being. If you are worried about your child’s mental health, talk with your pediatrician. They are here to help.