Youth mental health crisis: What parents should watch for

US Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy issued a public health advisory report last week on what he described as an alarming increase among young adults reporting some “mental health challenges,” an increase exacerbated by the pandemic.

Whitney Brammer, MD, a clinical psychologist in the division of adolescent and young adult medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, said it’s reassuring to see the surgeon general’s warning to promote more awareness of the problem. “As a psychiatrist here at Children’s Hospital, we’ve seen such a growing need for people with behavioral health, especially with teens and young adults,” Brammer said.

She said it’s important for parents to learn what warning signs to look for in their children and how to access additional support. Here are some suggestions made by mental health experts.

Warning signs

David W. Bond, director of behavioral health at Blue Shield in California, warned parents not to try to diagnose their children on their own or with the help of the Internet. However, certain behavioral shifts can raise red flags that should prompt a parent to seek help.

Experts interviewed by The Times, including school social workers and counselors, listed a number of behavioral and emotional changes that, if they persist, could be a sign of a more serious problem:

  • Increased truancy, tardiness, or resistance to going to school.
  • Severe change in concentration, difficulty concentrating, decreased motivation, or a drop in grades.
  • Feeling anxious, sad or depressed all the time, or frequent mood swings.
  • Withdraw from friends.
  • Indications of self-harm.
  • Frequent nightmares and sleep disturbances, whether due to sleeping for long periods or not sleeping enough.
  • Changes in eating habits.
  • Sharp changes in social media habits.
  • Peer conflict.
  • Physical symptoms, including frequent headaches, stomach aches, and body aches.

Alma Lopez, Livingston Unified School District Coordinator and Counselor at Livingston Middle School, said the telltale signs in young children tend to be changes in behavior, because they often can’t express how they are feeling yet. She said that as children get older, emotional issues become more pronounced.

When parents come to her for advice, she says, “I tell them, ‘You’re the expert.'” You know your child….if it’s not normal, let’s ask some questions.”

Bond offered four questions to ask when trying to decipher whether a child is going through a typical teenage problem or something more serious:

  1. When did you start?
  2. Was there an event or thing that caused the change?
  3. What is the frequency of the behavior?
  4. What is the severity of the behavior?

Bond said a child could feel stressed or sad about a breakup or a difficult test at school — and that’s normal. Bond said there may be a number of other forces on top of that, including the pandemic, injustice, racial and cultural issues and LGBTQ-related stress.

It can be difficult to distinguish between normal and abnormal in developing young adults. But if your teen has had intense feelings for more than two weeks or has strong feelings for most of the two week period, this is a sign that something more serious is afoot.

When the conversation begins, Bond said, parents should stop talking and listen. Many parents make the mistake of asking questions that suggest the answer a parent is looking for, for example, “Do you suffer from depression?” or “Do you feel this way?” What parents should do is keep themselves open to whatever the child might say.

If you reach out to your teen and they ignore the topic or don’t want to talk about it, try again at another time but don’t force the conversation, Bond said. But he added, “Sometimes you’re not the right person for them to talk to, even though they are your child and you may feel left out or even hurt.”

In this case, Bond said, the parent should find someone with an influential presence in the teen’s life, such as an uncle or an adult at school or church.

“If you have [teen] Has active thoughts of harming themselves or suicide, calmly dive into that right away,” Bond added. “We don’t want that to continue.”

What help is available at your child’s school

Although resources vary from district to district, parents looking for help can find it at their local school. Most universities have at least one person with mental health training — a counsellor, psychologist, social worker, or nurse — and your child’s teacher can direct you to the right person.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has a student and family hotline at (213) 241-3840 that is answered weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for help with mental health issues and other basic needs, such as housing and food insecurity. “It’s really meant to be a kind of one-stop shop to support the social, emotional, and wellness aspects of the family,” said Joel Cisneros, president of district mental health services. Cisneros said operators will first assess the severity of the problem, then connect the family to the appropriate resource, whether it’s a mental health worker at the child’s school or, for more significant concerns, one of the 13 health centers the district helps operate.

In addition, Cisneros said, each school has a crisis team trained to meet different mental health needs. The district has also organized workshops to teach parents and caregivers how to enhance students’ social well-being.

Loretta Whitson, executive director of California Assn, said a handful of schools have programs that monitor each student’s status on a daily basis, helping them identify potential emotional or behavioral problems at a very early stage. School counselors. But this is not common.

Usually it is the parents’ responsibility to bring problems to the school’s attention. “My advice to parents is not to be negative,” she said.

In addition to involving the child in the programs the school provides, Licia Weglars, vice president of California Assn. Of the School Counselors, the Counselors mentioned can connect families with out-of-school services. “We are pleased to go the family through the steps necessary to obtain this support,” she said. “We help families navigate those conversations, even with the pediatrician.”

Paul Brasil, president of California ASN. From school social workers, suggest parents request a meeting at their child’s school. He said schools will typically set up a “student success team” for the parent (and the child, if developmentally appropriate) with teachers and social workers or counselors at the school to discuss the child’s background and strengths, and then build a plan to address family concerns. “It’s a really great place for families to start this process,” Brasil said. It can document issues, hold people accountable, and identify resources available to help.

Other sources

Many schools are understaffed when it comes to mental health providers, so if you need more immediate help, you can also find help elsewhere.

Brammer said parents who have insurance should check the back of their insurance card for a number to contact mental health services and referrals available to them. Another way to get care, she said, is to contact the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health to learn about specific Medi-Cal programs or programs or local organizations.

The Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health has a 24/7 helpline, (800) 854-7771, which serves as the entry point for mental health services with the department. Staff there can direct you to an Access Center (for a provider referral or mental health screening), an Emotional Support Line (talking to a trained active listener), or a Veterans Line (for mental health support and contact with Veterans Programs).

Alma Family Services provides multilingual community services to families.

Wellnest, formerly the Child Guidance Clinic in Los Angeles, takes a family-driven and culturally respectful approach to providing behavioral health care and trauma-focused therapy.

United American Indian Involvement provides counseling and treatment services as well as a child abuse treatment program funded by the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.

The Children’s Bureau assists at-risk children and their families through mental health services, prevention services, and foster care-related services.

Trevor Project Lifeline provides support to LGBT youth and allies in crisis or who need a safe, judgment-free place to speak. Call (866) 488-7386.

to sign up:

4:45 PM Dec 14, 2021An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect phone number for Trevor Project Lifeline. The correct number is (866) 488-7386.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness contains a family guide on ways to provide support for a child with a mental health condition. It also contains a guide for young people to identify the warning signs for themselves, how to talk about what they are experiencing, and tips for seeking help. NAMI sponsors local support groups through its affiliates in the state, and there are various locations in the Los Angeles area: Urban Los Angeles, Glendale, Greater Los Angeles County, Long Beach, South Bay, San Gabriel Valley, San Fernando Valley and Westside Los Angeles.

NAMI has a crisis text line to connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free 24/7 support via text message. To start services, text “NAMI” to 741-741. You can also call the NAMI Helpline at (800) 950-6264 from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a national helpline, (800) 662-4357, which is free and confidential for people and families facing mental and substance use disorders.

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