Worried about your child’s mental health? Concerned about substance use?

It’s easy to know your child needs help dealing with a fever or a broken bone, but mental health and substance use problems (also referred to as behavioral health issues) can be harder to identify.

You may be surprised to learn that:

• 1 in 5 children experience a diagnosable mental health disorder each year, yet only 20 percent are identified and receive treatment.

• Mental health disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder may qualify a child for specific medical and/or educational services.

• 1 in 9 youth aged 13-18 experience a substance use disorder, yet only 7 percent receive services.

• 60 to 75 percent of adolescents who have mental health issues also have substance use issues.

The tricky part of parenting is knowing the kinds of behaviors and moods that are typical for the stage of development your child is in — and when your child may need help. If you think there is a problem, trust your instincts and seek help. You know your child better than anyone else.

All children experience periods of anger, frustration and sadness. You should consult with a health professional if you observe any of the following with your child:

• Feelings of sadness and hopelessness without a good reason, and the feelings don’t go away

• Changes in sleeping and eating habits

• Changes in school performance

• Poor concentration or difficulty sitting still or listening

• Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities

• Need to perform the same routines repeatedly

• Extreme fearfulness — unexplained fears or more fears than most other young people

• Anger that persists or occurs most of the time; overreactions

• Anxiety or expression of more or greater worries than most other young people

• Avoidance of friends and families

• Talk of suicide

• Hearing voices that cannot be explained

If you’re concerned about your child, reach out. Those who may provide assistance include your pediatrician, school administrator, school counselor, school nurse, religious leader, licensed mental health professional or community mental health clinic.

Many youth experiment with substances, which include alcohol and drugs. Some develop serious problems that require professional treatment. Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by substance-seeking behavior and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences. The initial decision to use alcohol or drugs is voluntary for most people, but repeated use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take substances.

Watch for these behavior changes in your child — they may be signs of a substance use problem:

• Sudden moodiness or irritability

• Becoming more secretive

• Argumentative, disruptive, rule-breaking behavior

• Low self–esteem or depression

• Poor judgment; irresponsible behavior

• Social withdrawal; pulling away from family

• Withdrawal from former activities or friends; change in friends; general lack of interest

If you’re concerned, reach out for help. Consider getting a professional assessment with your child’s primary care doctor or a clinical psychologist.

On the Eastern Shore, one-to-one support for parents and caregivers of young people with mental health or substance use issues is available at no cost from Maryland Coalition of Families. Trained specialists who have experienced similar challenges with their families are available to help. Visit www.mdcoalition. org or call 410-730-8267.

The Eastern Shore Crisis Hotline is available 24/7 to provide support, guidance and assistance for both mental health and substance use issues. Call 888-407-8018.

For additional resources and information on children’s mental health, visit www.childrensmentalhealthmatters.org.

For additional resources and information on substance use and young people, visit www.drugabuse.gov/parents-educators or www.drugfree.org.

Contributed by Beth Hess, Maryland Coalition of Families.

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