11 “Action Signs” Help You Identify if Your Child Needs Help

Cancer has early warning signs. In fact many childhood illnesses have signs that can be detected early, provided that you know what to look for. But what about mental health??

…How do you know if your child is in trouble?

Last Friday, the Mayo Clinic published a tool kit designed to help parents, teachers and the medical professionals identify early on when a child needs professional help. The 11 “action signs” are written in plain English and were created with the input of over 6,000 US children and parents to make sure they were simple and easy to understand.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, “confusion by parents and doctors is one reason why more than half of children with serious mental disorders go untreated, and also why healthy children are misdiagnosed with disorders they don’t have”. The problem most parents face is simple: If I don’t know what I’m looking for, how do I know when I’ve found it?

We needed to do something to help flesh out people’s understanding about what it meant when a child really did have a problem,” said Gary Blau, a clinical psychologist with the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Put simply, as a parent you need to be able to tell the difference between normal childhood moodiness and situations that are require immediate attention. Unfortunately it’s not always easy to interpret what your child is trying to tell you. Hopefully, these guidelines will help:

When children need help

The tool kit indicates children are at risk when they:

  • Feel very sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks.
  • Seriously try to harm or kill themselves, or make plans to do so.
  • Experience sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing.
  • Are involved in many fights, use a weapon, or want to badly hurt others.
  • Display severe out-of-control behavior that can hurt themselves or others.
  • Are not eating, shows signs of throwing up, or using laxatives to make themselves lose weight.
  • Have intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities.
  • Demonstrate extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still that puts you in physical danger or causes school failure.
  • Repeatedly use drugs or alcohol.
  • Show severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships.
  • Display drastic changes in behavior or personality.

The new guidelines are endorsed by the U.S. Surgeon General, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Although Mayo researchers say that their toolkit won’t be able to identify every child with a mental health problem, they estimate that it will identify at least half of the children who have undiagnosed conditions.

And that would be a very good start.



About the Author

Stefanie Zucker is President and co-founder of Pediatric Medical and Managing Director and co-founder of Axios Partners, a strategy consulting firm. After a number of years spent researching the safety issues associated with transporting children on ambulances she became a child health safety advocate and formed Pediatric Safety with a goal of creating a world-wide movement of parents and caregivers inspired to protect the health and safety of kids. Stefanie is a member of the PedSafe Team


3 Responses to “11 “Action Signs” Help You Identify if Your Child Needs Help”

  1. Angelia Sims says:

    My heart breaks for these children, but it is so good to get the word out on what to look for. Truthfully, they are crying for help in the only way they know. Another great post, Stefanie. 🙂

    • Stefanie Zucker sazucker says:

      Thanks Angelia! I just hope that once folks recognize the signs, they get their kids the help they need. Thanks…and Happy Thanksgiving!!


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