Focus on Mental Health: An interview with providers, Part 2

Two providers with UP Health System detail the red flags and warning signs to watch for in your child
As a parent, it can be challenging to know what's normal behavior and what's a red flag. Dr. Bowden explains it comes down to functioning.
Published: Aug. 30, 2022 at 10:18 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - Tuesday, TV6′s Elizabeth Peterson talked to experts about the signs and red flags to look for in your child that may indicate they need help.

Part two of Peterson’s conversation with two mental health providers, Dr. Jennifer Bowden and Dr. Kelley Mahar, both psychiatrists with UP Health System, focused on the behaviors and warning signs as we try to unravel the mental health crisis happening in Upper Michigan.

Part 1 focused on the importance of making our mental health as much a priority as our physical health.

In Part 2, we look at how to take that first step when you’re not feeling right, you’re not well, and you’re in need of help.

Dr. Kelley Mahar: “You deserve to feel better than that, and mental health is no different than physical health, right? The physical illness and mental illness all have biological and physiological components, but they also have components that are affected by our social situation and what’s going on in our lives. If you had a broken bone or if you have diabetes or you are in pain, you would seek treatment for that. And this is no less important. Because it affects your life and there is help and it doesn’t have to be scary.”

Elizabeth Peterson: “What are we looking out for and how do we address it?”

Dr. Jennifer Bowden: “Two real obvious signs are a change in mood or a change in behavior that’s really affecting the child’s functioning. Some other signs they might see are a change in their child’s weight, isolation, not doing the things that they loved to do previously, pain that’s unexplained physically. And then even aggression can be a sign of mental illness. Some red flags are if the parent hears the child talking about or if they know they’re writing about, or if they are posting online things about not wanting to be alive anymore. Anything surrounding that is definitely a warning sign.”

Elizabeth Peterson: “You know, I’m a mom of a teenage boy and as you’re talking through some of those warning signs, I’m thinking oh, that’s being a teenager to some degree, right? I mean, I think sometimes it’s easy to just maybe disregard that like, oh, it’s part of growing up. It’s part of being a teenager. It’s part of just learning how to do life... so it always scares me. I don’t want to brush anything under the rug, but I also don’t want to make anything worse by making a bigger deal out of something that maybe is just normal - so it’s hard as a parent to know.”

Dr. Jennifer Bowden: “I think that the cut off is really functioning. So yeah, kids are broody. Yeah, everybody know that teens have some mood changes. That’s pretty typical. Absolutely puberty makes things tougher. I mean, yea, it really comes down to functioning. That’s when we consider something an illness. If it’s impacting their ability to learn, their ability to interact with their family in a healthy way and affecting their way to interact with other peers their age. Or they’re just not taking care of themselves anymore. So yeah, kids aren’t great with their hygiene. Teenagers don’t like to stick to routines, but if they’re really not bathing anymore. If they’re not brushing their teeth, if they’re not taking care of themselves, those are signs that it’s gone beyond typical teenage behavior.”

Dr. Bowden said if you see any of the signs she mentioned, the first step she recommends is talking with your child. Ask them directly what they think is going on and what could be helpful. And then after that conversation, if the symptoms are mild and there are no safety concerns, schedule an appointment with a licensed counselor. If it’s a more serious situation, contact the child’s primary care physician for an evaluation.