Trying to tell when your child should go to the Emergency Department for medical concerns is a bit more clear cut then it is for mental health concerns. Knowing what you “should” do to get help for your kids in the case of mental health emergency can be overwhelming and intimidating.
Parents are often given conflicting advice on what to do to be the “perfect” parent. This is pretty unrealistic and not very helpful in your moment of need. A theorist, D. W. Winnicott, wrote about being a “good enough” mother or parent. This is basically the idea that it is impossible to be perfect, so instead let’s focus on being “good enough”.
Many of us have heard the saying “the opposite of love is apathy”. We also know that neglect can often cause more lasting psychological damage than other forms of abuse. When you put these ideas together, we can make the conclusion that doing something to advocate for your child is preferred to doing nothing, even if that something isn’t the ‘perfect’ response.
If you, as caregiver are concerned, then bring your child to a provider. PraireCare offers free Needs Assessments which include recommendations for the level of care that will be most helpful as well as referrals for those providers. If you have a relationship with your primary care provider you can also ask them for suggestions of level of care that is appropriate and referrals.
Some basic warning signs for needing to bring your child to emergency departments are; if your child has not slept for 3 or more days; if your child is talking about suicide and tells you their plan to carry out an attempt; if your child has seemed down for several days or weeks and then inexplicably becomes happy or perhaps even relieved; if your child talks about wanting to kill someone else and seems to have the capability to follow out a plausible plan.
There are plenty of more specific symptoms in which you should bring your child to a provider and these symptoms need to be understood in context. For example, if you child stays up a couple nights for a big exam or in preparation for prom night, it’s not ideal, but makes sense with the situation. If your child is sad after the family pet has died, again it makes sense with the situation.
Bottom line, if you as the caregiver are concerned, doing something, even if it’s not the right thing, it is better than doing nothing!
As a parent to have a pulse on what’s going on with your child, make sure that they have a safe place to have those discussions and that the language is available. If you can’t say the word suicide, depression, or mental illness you can’t really expect your child to bring that to you as a concern. Have an open dialogue about sexuality, chemical use, mental health, how they handle stress, and what goes on in their lives.
Stay aware, stay informed, and stay supportive. That is how we help our children when it comes to mental health issues.