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Resource for Parents of Children With Mental Health Issues


Support for Parents of Children With Mental Health Issues

Parenting is one of the most rewarding jobs in life. Children remind us of what’s most important: joy, laughter, and honest human connections. It’s often said that having children is like “watching your heart walk around outside your body.” They take us back to basics, and have an amazing capacity to bring people together.

Along with the benefits of parenting, however, come challenges. Financial, practical and emotional concerns are foregrounded when children arrive on the scene. All parents face a different set of circumstances, and each family handles them in a different way. Even in the most ideal situations, the task of raising a child is monumental  But what happens when your child has mental health issues?

Facts on Children’s Mental Health

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 13 percent of children between the ages of 8 and 13 have “severe mental health issues” such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or conduct disorder. For children between the ages of 13 and 18, the figure rises to 21 percent. Further investigations reveal more troubling statistics. Only 50 percent of these children receive professional treatment, and 50 percent of children age 14 or older with mental health issues will drop out of high school.[1]

The stakes for children with mental health issues are high, and the responsibility for taking action falls on the parents, making what was already a tough job that much tougher.

Fortunately, parents are not alone. Many forms of support exist for parents of children with mental health issues.

What Parents of Children with Mental Issues Can Do

Assessment and Evaluation

When parents suspect that their child may be facing mental health issues, the most important first step is to get a proper evaluation. The quality and accuracy of the evaluation will determine the course of treatment, which will in turn have a direct effect on the outcome.

Full and comprehensive evaluations often take more than one visit to complete. They may involve the input of several children’s health care professionals. You may also need to involve school support staff members, such as guidance counselors, in the process.

Parents concerned about the cost of professional evaluations can research possible reimbursement options available in their state of residence, such as those offered by Medicaid.[2] There may be a waiver or cost-sharing program available. Information on eligibility and availability can be found on the Medicaid Website here: Behavioral Health Services.


During the evaluation process and before settling on a course of treatment, it’s essential for parents and children to learn as much as they can about what’s happening. Books, pamphlets and Internet resources are available to aid in this process. Information for children should be tailored to their age and level of development. The website for the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry offers an excellent resource for families and youth.


NAMI strongly suggests that parents insist on a course of treatment with the following characteristics[3]:

  • Treatment should be family-centered
  • Treatment should be based on the strengths of the child
  • Treatment should have clear goals and objectives
  • Treatment should have evaluation criteria (i.e., ways of determining whether or not the treatment is effective)
  • Treatment should include plans to modify the plan based on the evaluation criteria

When deciding on treatment, it’s important to think through exactly how the plan is going to play out in real-time, and how it’s going to work in the day-to-day life of the family. Teachers, doctors, school personnel, social services and all involved family members should be part of the process. Many states offer wraparound services that help families tailor a plan specific to their needs. The National Wraparound Initiative helps families find services in their area.

Support Systems for Parents

In addition to the practical information available from NAMI, The American Academy on Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and The National Wraparound Initiative, parents need to know that they are not alone.

Support groups for parents of children with mental health issues can be found at Mental Health America. Though care-taking is paramount, it helps parents to remember that they should take care of themselves, too. If they sacrifice their own emotional and psychological balance, they will not be able to adequately support their children. In the end, the goal is to maintain the health and wellness of the entire family.

[1] National Alliance on Mental Illness. Raising Mental Health Awareness: The Facts.

[2] Fassler, David, MD. Advocating for Your Child: 25 Tips for Parents. National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2003.

[3] Fassler, David, MD. Advocating for Your Child: 25 Tips for Parents. National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2003.

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