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Parenting Matters: 10 tips for advocating for child’s mental health

NAMI DuPage (National Alliance Mental Illness) BrendHilligoss-School Connections Director

NAMI DuPage (National Alliance on Mental Illness), Brenda Hilligoss-School Connections Director

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Updated: December 29, 2012 6:11AM

According to the surgeon general, one child out of five will experience problems because of a psychiatric disorder. Sadly, only one in three is receiving the comprehensive treatment they need.

Children and adolescents deserve the best possible mental health care. Parents can help by being informed, involved and persistent advocates on behalf of their children. The following are 10 specific tips and suggestions that parents might find helpful:

1. Get a comprehensive evaluation, which may involve several visits to provide an accurate diagnosis.

2. Insist on the best practitioners for your child. Network in your area to find the best counselors and physicians with the most experience and expertise in evaluating children and adolescents.

3. Ask lots of questions. Make sure that you and your child fully understand the full range of treatment options, so that you can make an informed decision.

4. Insist on “family-centered” treatment. Ask about specific goals and objectives. How will you know if treatment is working?

5. Ask about “wrap-around” services in your area. Research options in the community like schools and park district programs.

6. Be organized and prepared. One of the best things you can do for your child is having all pertinent information in one place, including consultation and evaluation results. Always ask for your own copies.

7. Ask for a second opinion. Make sure you are comfortable and confident with the care you are getting from your mental health professional.

8. Help your child learn about their condition. Use books, pamphlets and honest conversation.

9. Know the details of your insurance policy and learn about the laws governing insurance.

10. Work with the schools. Oftentimes children spend more time at school than they do with their families. Make sure your school is well versed in your child’s condition and ask to be included in all school meetings to discuss your child.

These are the first steps to take care of a child and family dealing with a potential mental health diagnosis.

At NAMI DuPage, we know that stigma is the biggest hurdle to individuals reaching out for help with their mental health problems. We also know that the best way to break down this stigma is through sharing personal stories.

That’s why we work hard to share our own stories of recovery and hope.

Mental illness is like any other physical illness, and the earlier we get help for that illness, the better chance we have for good recovery.

Visit our website,, to learn more about resources available for individuals and their families living with mental illnesses. You can also visit our “Ending The Silence” website to find out about education and stigma busting we are doing in the schools at You can see a sample presentation, or click under the “student” tab to hear some of our personal stories.

Brenda Hilligoss is the school connections director for NAMI DuPage (National Alliance on Mental Illness), which is part of the Collaborative Youth Team, a partnership of 20 youth and family service organizations and agencies.

This column is courtesy of KidsMatter, Collaborative Youth Team facilitator.

To access the community resource guide and partner contact information, visit

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