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“Is it a Phase?” – Mental Illness Awareness Week

Thank you to Neil McNerney, Clinical Director, The Wellness Connection, for this very informative post.

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Is It A Phase?

By: Neil Mcnerney, M.ED., LPC

Every October, The National Alliance on Mental Illness celebrates Mental Illness Awareness Week.  Each year, they fight stigma, provide support, and educate the public – working to improve the lives of tens of millions of Americans affected by mental illness. This year, the campaign focuses on a new StigmaFree initiative (#IAmStigmaFree). 

While everyone experiences stress, sadness and anxiety from time to time, it’s important to identify ongoing concerns and seek help when necessary.  After all, our mental and emotional well-being are important components of our overall health.

One of the hard things about being a parent is trying to figure out whether our child is “Just going through a phase,” or whether the issues might benefit from additional help.  On one hand, we want to do what is best for our child, but on the other hand, we also don’t want to blow things out of proportion.

As the Clinical Director at The Wellness Connection, I am continually amazed at the resiliency of children.  Their ability to gain insight and make changes in their lives seems to be much greater than adults.  Sometimes, all they need is a different perspective and a few tools.

So, how should you decide whether it might be time for counseling?  There are two big factors to consider: length of time, and severity of the issue.

 Length of Time.  When something is a phase, it tends to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. For instance, most kindergartners and first graders have some difficulty adjusting to school, especially in the beginning.  Usually, this will fade after a few weeks.  If it doesn’t fade, it might be a good idea to consult with a counselor to see if counseling might be helpful.

When it seems like the issue should have resolved itself on its own, and it hasn’t, then it might be time to consult with a counselor.

 Severity.  If the issue is more extreme or severe than you would expect, then counseling might be in order.  For instance, all teens are moody.  It’s a part of their species.  But, if the moodiness is extreme, and you worry about the severity, then it might be more than just a phase.

Here is a list of things to look for that might help in deciding whether to consider seeking help:

1.  Sleep Changes

•    Trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep

•    Feeling un-rested even after a normal sleep cycle

•    Recurrent nightmares or fear of going to sleep

 2.  Behavior Issues

•    Significant disrespect toward parents

•    Defiance of rules at home or school

•    Increased irritability and a desire to bother others

 3.  School Issues

•    Low motivation

•    Difficulty starting or completing homework; losing assignments

•    Giving up

•    Decreased concentration and/or easily distracted

 4.  Anxiety Issues

•    Significant worry and focus on future issues

•    Difficulty concentrating

•    Perfectionism and/or irritability

•    Repeated behaviors; needs things ‘just so’

 5.  Depression Issues

•    Sense of sadness and/or irritability

•    Negative comments about life

•    Loss of interest in sports, hobbies, etc.; isolation

•    Difficulty concentrating

 6.  Friendship Issues

•    Difficulty making or keeping friends

•    Difficulty in coping with teasing

•    Hanging out with a different peer group

If you have decided that it might be time to consider counseling, there are a number of great resources in our area.  The Wellness Connection has a team of intake specialists that are trained in helping to determine what help might be beneficial.  In addition, Loudoun County Mental Health Department provides counseling services to all residents, regardless of income.  Call 703-771-5100 for more information.  If you feel that it is an urgent issue, call their 24 hour hotline at 703-777-0320.

Neil McNerney is the Clinical Director at The Wellness Connection and author of Homework – A Parent’s Guide To Helping Out Without Freaking Out! and The Don’t Freak Out Guide for Parenting Kids with Asperger’s.  For more information go to