The Top 5 Questions to Ask When Assessing Mental Health Assistance for Kids
Many families seek mental health assistance for their kids, but few families I meet think about some of the most important questions to ask when going through the process of selecting providers and methods of help. In fact, in far too many cases parents make hurried decisions based on little more than talking to a friend or neighbor, and then eventually meet with a mental health professional without having questions to discuss with the provider. Should you call a psychiatrist or Psychologist? Should you investigate teletherapy, or focus on traditional in-person counseling? Would a treatment plan built on psychotropic drugs be pursued, or a non-drug life skills approach instead? It is important to become a critical thinking consumer when examining mental health options, as the treatments currently available range dramatically with respect to outcomes, side effects, and costs.
The top 5 questions parents should ask when examining mental health options for kids
- How is a diagnosis determined? In some cases today pediatricians passively go along with a parent’s request for “help” with respect to their child’s depression, anxiety, or lacking attention. No formal diagnosis takes place, but instead the parent is given a trial prescription for a psychotropic medication. Generally speaking, simply filling a prescription without a counseling component is not the best way to begin psychological services, and parents should continue to seek help from an experienced, licensed clinician using a formal diagnostic system.
- What are the dangers of psychotropic medications? With so many kids being quickly placed on psychotropic drugs, isn’t it important to know as much as you can about the efficacy of the drugs being prescribed, as well as potential side-effects? Pay attention to the FDA black box warnings of drugs (required by law), and take time to have important, detailed conversations about the drugs being prescribed. Additionally, talk to your doctor about what markers are being set for your child to be removed from the drug(s) — in other words, when will the child be at a point where the drugs are no longer needed?
- What alternatives are there to psychotropic drugs? Far too many kids these days have been prescribed potentially dangerous psychotropic drugs, especially when there are many drug-free, safer alternatives to consider. Talk to your doctor about how to help your child develop important life skills, stress coping skills, and other pro-social behaviors designed to improve self-esteem and prepare kids for a successful future. Remember, there are more choices and alternatives beyond drugs when it comes to helping kids improve the quality of their lives.
- What is the role of insurance? It makes perfect sense to examine how insurance will cover mental health needs, but be sure to think about what potential long-term damage looms if having a mental health disorder is attached to your child’s medical file? Will he/she now have a pre-existing condition resulting in higher future medical costs? What privacy concerns should you have once your child’s name is entered into the insurance database for mental health treatment? It is for these potential issues that it makes sense to examine insurance options versus paying out of pocket and ensuring greater privacy.
- What potential damage could come from self-fulfilling prophecies? When kids believe they are damaged in some way, often their future efforts decrease because they falsely assume it wouldn’t matter anyway. I have met kids at my office who have said to me “Why should I try, Im ADD?” It’s important that even when kids are diagnosed with a mental disorder that we help them understand that their condition is not necessarily for life, nor does it suggest that they can’t go on to enjoy a happy, healthy, and productive life.
Parents are encouraged to do their homework when considering mental health treatment options, including having a healthy and constructive dialogue with their family pediatrician. Pay close attention to treatment options, drug side-effects, potential long-term consequences related to health insurance, and self-fulfilling prophecies that could hinder your child’s future growth. Take the time needed to ask important questions and consider all options — especially non-drug options — when providing help to your child.