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sad girl

When a parent’s gut says something is not right…

A child slowly begins to retreat from their friends; another cannot stand the feel of clothing tags on his skin; a five year old that just won’t stop fidgeting; a young girl that can’t seem to leave the house anymore; a nine year old boy that is angry all the time. These are profiles of the 1 in 5 children in Ontario that struggle with their mental health (Source: CMHA).

So what do you do as a parent when your gut is telling you that something is not right? Taking the first step is not always easy especially because of the stigma that has long since been attached to mental health – but know that there are services available. How do you reach out and begin what can sometimes be a long and emotional journey? Here are some things to consider:

  1. Talk to your child, try to gauge where they are at and what level of understanding they have to what is going on in their current situation. Keep the lines of communication open and encourage your child to share their feelings and concerns with you.
  2. Talk to your spouse or extended family members. Do they have concerns as well? In order for you to be a pillar of strength for your child, YOU also need a support network.
  3. Communicate with your child’s school or daycare. Are they seeing the same things? Consider asking them to track concerning behaviours based on frequency, intensity and duration.
  4. Check in with coaches or instructors. Have they seen any changes in behaviour?
  5. Document any concerning behaviour and keep records of what you are seeing. If you have implemented behaviour modification charts, keep those as well. If you see any disturbing artwork or writing samples – hang on to them.
  6. Do research on the internet to learn more about some of the symptoms that your child is displaying, but keep in mind that the information is generalized. Only a doctor can accurately label/diagnose what your child is experiencing.
  7. Contact your local doctor and discuss the concerns you are seeing. If he/she is not comfortable treating your child, then request a referral to either a Paediatrician or Child Psychiatrist. You are also entitled to seek out second opinions from other professionals.
  8. Consider counselling options such as using your benefits, EAP (Employee Assistance Program), school guidance counsellors, free Walk In counselling at Front Door, pastor at your church, etc.
  9. In a crisis situation, know that you can contact the police for support, they can help determine whether or not your child needs to be taken to the hospital. Sometimes their presence alone can help diffuse a potentially volatile situation.
  10. Contact Front Door at 519-749-2932. Staff can assist you with taking the next step in seeking support for your child as well as connecting you to appropriate program supports.
  11. You can also reach out for crisis support that is available after hours and 24 hours per day at: 1-844-437-3247 (Here 24/7).
  12. If your child is diagnosed with a mental health disorder, consider joining a parent support group. Parents walking the same journey as you can often be a life line and understand more intimately what you are experiencing.
  13. Advocate, Advocate, Advocate. Once your child is diagnosed, both school and community organizations are obligated to provide accommodations for your child in order to assist in their success.
  14. Always keep in mind your child is not their diagnosis. With treatment and support, they can lead normal and healthy lives. Even though at times it may be difficult, your love needs to be unwavering and unconditional.
  15. Most importantly, know that you are not alone, as stated in an African Proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Jen DiPaolo is a Children’s Intensive Case Manager with Carizon and has more than 17 years of experience in the Children’s Mental Health sector.