Resources & Support Guide

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What Families Can Do When a Member May Have a Mental Illness

If you are worried about you or your child’s mental health, follow your instincts.Unexplained changes in behavior and/or mood may be the early warning signs of a mental health condition and should never be ignored. There are many different types of mental illness, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, ADHD and autism spectrum disorder, and it isn’t easy to simplify the range of challenges we may face.

One way to begin if you are concerned is to get an evaluation by a licensed mental health professional. Because everyone is unique and local mental health services, insurance coverage and school services vary from community to community, it is a challenge to find the right kind of help for your family.

There are things that you should be concerned with if you see them, such as:

•  A sudden or persistent drop in work or school performance.
•  Persistently aggressive behavior.
•  Threats to self or others.
•  Substantial mood swings.
•  Hallucinations, paranoia or delusions.
•  Acting very withdrawn, sad or overly anxious.
•  Extreme difficulty interacting with friends and/or siblings.
•  Extreme changes in sleeping and eating patterns.
•  Increased or persistent use of alcohol or drugs.

Several factors contribute to the challenge in getting an accurate diagnosis, including:

•  Symptoms, which include difficult behaviors and dramatic changes in behavior and
emotions, may change and continue to develop over time. A clinical interview should gather a full history, a “movie,” as well as a “snapshot” in the interview process.
•  Diagnoses may co-occur. A person with an anxiety disorder may be using alcohol extensively. A person with major depression may also have problematic eating behaviors.
•  People and persons undergo rapid developmental changes in their brains and bodies
and face multiple social role changes at the same time.
•  Younger people may be unable to effectively describe their feelings or thoughts, making it harder to understand their experience. They may “show” distress more than “tell” about their distress. They may be seen frequently in school nurse offices with headaches or
stomachaches but may have an undiagnosed psychiatric disorder.
•  It is often difficult to access a qualified mental health professional to do a comprehensive
evaluation because of the shortage of people’s mental health providers and because some
health care providers are reluctant to recognize mental illnesses in people and persons.