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Fight the fear of getting help for your child

By Soad Michelsen, MD

How many times has the thought of seeking help for your child with behavioral or emotional difficulties crossed your mind? You say to yourself: this is not a happy child, there has to be something that we can do to help him/her grow up enjoying life. As you look for telephone numbers to make an appointment either with a therapist or a psychiatrist, you hear news about the increase in suicidal ideation induced by antidepressants, the possibility that children are over-diagnosed with this or that illness.

Many parents and caregivers are stopped in their tracks with the fear of What if things get worse? What if my child begins to have thoughts of suicide? What can come next? After a sigh of despair, the parent decides to continue dealing with conflicts hoping they will go away. Unfortunately, when a child or adolescent is dealing with mental health issues, problems usually do not just go away without causing significant consequences for the individual and those around them.

Fear can cause people to avoid facing an issue and deny it even exists, hence impeding the pursuit of a solution. I invite parents to take a proactive role and use that fear to their child's benefit. Use the uncertainty that fuels the fire of fear to put it out with the power of information. Some parents may perceive the process of seeking help through the mental health system as a rigid process that tells parents what they are doing wrong and what pills their child can take to fix it: take it or leave it! This approach would understandably scare anyone.

Parents can also fight the fear of seeking help by understanding that the parent is in control of fulfilling the treatment plan recommendations. The parent gives the ultimate consent on which treatments can be initiated but this can only be done with a firm foundation of information. The psychiatrist gives his clinical impressions and recommendations as a starting place, not an ultimatum.

Parents ask questions! Ask about potential side effects of medications; ask about the expected outcome of the treatment. If you continue to feel uncomfortable with the treatment recommendation, give the physician an opportunity to address your doubts and guide you to other medically supported sources of information. What about second opinions? Is the doctor going to be offended if I question his assessment, if I want to be as sure as possible about the diagnosis and treatment?

When these questions come to mind, ask yourself what drives them. Is it prolonging the avoidance and hindering the help; or is it truly part of the process to reach a solution. If it's the latter, do not hesitate to follow through. Studies have shown that psychiatric assessments and tools provide good inter-rater reliability, which means that well trained psychiatrists using diagnostic tools usually reach the same conclusions.

So I ask parents to not let fear freeze them. Although dealing with your child's difficulties feels like you are powerless, you are not. You have the control to seek out appropriate help for your child. The key would be to Seek Information.

Originally featured on the Health Channel.

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