First Steps for Getting Help

If you, your child, or a loved one is struggling with behavioral or emotional difficulties, symptoms may appear across many areas of life, including home, school, work, relationships with friends or family, or within the community. It is important to identify a mental health concern early, so that you or a loved one can receive the proper care needed.

First, it is important to recognize whether and how an ongoing problem is affecting your, a loved one’s, or your child’s life. To identify this, it can be helpful to keep notes about when specific symptoms or behaviors occur. Try to answer the following questions as best you can:

  • What symptom(s) or behavior(s) have you noted? 
  • How are these different from your typical behavior?
  • When did the symptom(s) or behavior(s) begin?
  • How often do the symptom(s) or behavior(s) occur?
  • How severe or extreme do the symptom(s) seem to you? To others?
  • How long do the symptom(s) or each episode of the troubling behavior last?
  • Where do the symptoms or troubling behavior occur? At school? At work? At home? Do symptoms appear in one setting and not another?
  • How are the symptom(s) or behavior(s) impacting one’s ability to function in daily life?
  • If it is a child about whom you are concerned, is his/her behavior different from the behavior of other children in his/her age group?

For a variety of reasons, individuals are sometimes reluctant to contact a mental health professional when they suspect they or a loved one may have a mental health issue. One major reason is due to continued stigma around mental illness in society. For this reason, individuals may worry about what other people will think about them or their child. Some may worry that they will have difficulty understanding the mental health professional’s recommendations, that they will lose control over their or their child’s treatment, or that treatment will be expensive. These concerns are real, but mental health professionals work very hard to minimize any possible obstacles, and always welcome questions and family involvement in your or a child's treatment.

If you believe a problem does exist, you need to know how and where to find professional help. The initial contact should usually be with a primary care doctor or pediatrician. For parents seeking guidance around how to begin this conversation with their child’s pediatrician, please visit our Working with Your Pediatrician guide. For parents, the next contact should be someone at the child’s school. It may be an administrator, a teacher, or a mental health professional.  Seeking additional information from what school personnel have observed about the child, and finding out available resources at the school is an important part of treatment for a child.

If looking for additional support for yourself, it can help helpful to disclose your concerns to a trusted friend or family member. There are also a variety of support groups available, across the state, which can provide a safe place for you or a loved one to talk about your concerns. It is important to remember that if you, a loved one, or a child has a mental health issue, seeking support from different individuals will help ensure you have an opportunity to hear different points of view, learn more about the current situation and gain a better understanding of other mental health services and options available.

If you or a loved one would like to receive mental health support, you can also call the William James INTERFACE Referral Service. The service can answer any questions you may have regarding accessing mental health care for you, your child, or your family. The INTERFACE Referral Service maintains a mental health and wellness referral Helpline Monday through Friday, 9 am-5 pm, at 888-244-6843 (toll free). This is a free, confidential referral service for individuals across the lifespan living in participating communities.

In addition, the following resources may be helpful: