Mental illness is a trying thing on everybody who suffers from it. Even short term cases of depression can leave permanent injuries, physical and emotional alike, while life long cases of mental illnesses ranging from clinical depression to attention deficient hyperactivity disorder to the disorders on the autism spectrum can destroy a person’s life.
Mental illness is particularly difficult on children who have little frame of reference for what is and isn’t reasonable. Particularly young children oftentimes consider the thinking brought on mental illnesses to be perfectly normal because they do not much remember their lives before they became afflicted with their problems. Many of the mental illnesses that develop in childhood have an unfortunate tendency to become life long problems, making early treatment crucial to young people with these problems.
Mental health care can seem intimidating even to adults as the process is little understood and many otherwise rational people tend to have a great deal of misinformation about what mental health care entails. Simply taking a child to a psychologist will not get them automatically committed to an institution, nor is there any shame in giving a child psychiatric medications. On the flip side, parents can not expect a few pills and a periodic trip to the doctor to fix their child’s problems. Dealing with childhood mental illness is a long and involved process for everybody involved and parents can not expect a doctor and medicine to do everything.
Most parents are advised to take a child who displays signs of mental illness to a child psychologist. What a child psychologist does is a complex set of treatment methods intended to figure out the best way to treat childhood mental illnesses. As mentioned above, the psychiatric disorders of children are different from those of adults as children tend to have less experience in a less damaged frame of mind, as well as less experience with life in general and less self control than adults. What a child psychologist does is work to find the best treatment options for a mentally ill child by factoring in not only the child’s illnesses, but also the child’s age.
Sometimes these treatment options do include medications, which requires a prescription from a medically trained psychiatrist. Other treatment options include regular therapy with a therapist. Both these vocations will often have specialists in treating children with both medication and therapeutic coping strategies. A child psychologist is also trained to deal with the best ways to combine different treatment options, as again, simply giving children pills is not a silver bullet to cure complex problems. Ideally a number of different treatment options will be combined, at bare minimum involving regular therapy and if necessary proper medications, but all options should be considered.
What a child psychologist does also includes helping the parents through what could be a very difficult few years dealing with their child’s mental health problems. Advising parents on the best way to handle a mentally ill child is a major part of a child psychologist’s job. This includes not only advising them about the best treatment options, but also the best way to live with a mentally ill child. Many child psychologists also offer educational consultation.
The educational systems across the world are built with a one size fits all mentality, and mentally ill children rarely fit in that mold due to their problems. A child psychologist offering educational consultations will be able to assist parents, teachers and children alike in navigating what is essentially an environment that is inherently hostile to children who have problems and disabilities, be they mental or physical.
Other child psychologists may have other specialties, ranging from medical doctor training allowing them to prescribe psychiatric medications to training in giving therapy. Some particularly specialized child psychologists also have training in helping children deal with specific mental illnesses.
This is particularly true about autism spectrum disorders, as these almost always manifest early in childhood and can be crippling if proper treatment is not given to autistic children. Still, there are many different problems a child can come down with, and most child psychologists worth their salt will know what steps to take to help a child survive and grow despite these problems.
It should be noted, however, that parents have a major part to play as well. Even the best child psychologist can not replace parenting, and while child psychologists can help parents, in the end, parents have to a lot of the work themselves. In addition to getting over their own unease with mental health care, parents will also have to carry through with the treatment options as it is unreasonable to expect a child to remember to take medications, remember coping strategies under pressure and handle the school system’s difficulties with mental illness on their own.
While mental illness can be intimidating for adults, it should be noted that untreated mental illness, particularly in children who have no reason to know better, never leads to anything good. Parents who allow mental illnesses to go untreated often find their problems getting worse, whether it’s a depressed child who can’t control themselves in school or at home or an autistic child who simply can’t manage to speak more than a few words. There is far, far more shame in neglecting a child’s mental health care than there is getting a child the care they need to function in life.