What are the warning signs of mental health issues in youth?

Whitney Bavarich and Susie Clark have a combined 35 years of experience working with children and youth, and the majority of their careers have been spent in Routt County.

Bavarich recently accepted the position of youth resiliency program at Northwest Colorado Health after serving for seven years as day treatment alternative program clinician at Mind Springs Health, working with older youth and offering intensive therapy.

Clark is an early childhood mental health specialist for Mind Springs Health, a position she’s held for two decades.

When asked about signs and behaviors parents should look for when trying to determine whether their child might need mental health support, the two mental health professionals provided the following list.

• Persistent sadness that lasts longer than two or three weeks

• Increased irritability

• Big mood swings

• Increased isolation

• Changes in eating and sleeping patterns

• Avoidance of activities they used to enjoy

• A drop in grades

• Withdrawal from social activities

• Regressed behavior — reverting back to behaviors that are typical for a younger child

• Increased crying with an inability to regulate emotions

• Hurting oneself or talking about hurting oneself

• Talking about death or suicide

• Loss of weight

• Difficulty sleeping

“I think if a parent is worried, it’s good to talk to the people who also know your child — a teacher, a pediatrician, good friends who have kids the same age,” Clark said. “And if it’s a persistent worry, I think it’s good to reach out to a mental health professional or take advantage of the programs in the schools.”

Bakarich reminds parents that school counselors are also a good resource, and she recommends teens go visit with their counselor if they are struggling. She also said parents should try to stay connected to their kids.

“They say the most important times of the day are the first three minutes after your kid gets up, the first three minutes when your kid gets home from school and the last three minutes of their day,” Bakarich said. “If you can be 100% present for those nine minutes per day, you’re going to catch a lot of these things.”

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