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Signs & Symptoms

“Changes in a child or adolescent’s emotional functioning are considered concerning when their thoughts, feelings, or behavior become too difficult for them to manage and/or get in the way of their ability to cope with the every day demands of self-care, home, school, and/or relationships.”

Children and adolescents are constantly stretching to meet physical and emotional milestones.  Along the way, it is common to see mood changes, emotional swings, acting out, and poor judgment.  With all of the expected social, emotional, and behavioral ups and downs of a young person’s development, how do we know when a problem may be emerging?

Most social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health problems and disorders have signs and symptoms that are detectable at home and at school long before the child is ever brought to the attention of professionals.

If you notice significant social, emotional, behavioral or cognitive changes in a child or adolescent, seek consultation from a school counselor, pediatrician or other local mental health resource Though these changes may reflect nothing more than a normal developmental growing period, they may also signal something more concerning and should be taken seriously.   Early identfication and intervention can often prevent further problems from developing.



  • Persistent nightmares
  • Unusual thoughts or beliefs
  • Thoughts that race too fast
  • Poor concentration
  • Inability to focus attention
  • Hearing voices that cannot be explained
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Thinking that life is too hard or has no meaning

  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Angry feelings
  • Anxious or worried feelings
  • Extreme fear
  • Sense of worthlessness
  • Sense of guilt
  • Sense of agitation and/or uneasiness
  • Loss of interest in things he or she usually enjoys
  • Lack or remorse or guilt when others are hurt

  • Decrease in school performance
  • Loss of effort in things he/she usually enjoys
  • Unexplained changes in sleeping habits
  • Unexplained changes in eating habits
  • Frequent crying and overreaction to small things
  • Avoidance of family and/or friends
  • Hyperactivity or fidgeting
  • Frequent breaking of rules or getting into trouble with the law
  • Use of alcohol or other drugs
  • Threats of self harm or violence
  • Dangerous or life threatening actions


In addition to these more general potential mental health warning signs listed above, almost everyone thinking about or planning suicide displays some warning signs or clues, especially in the week or two before the final act.  Below are emergent warning signs that signal a crisis and demand immediate action.


  • Threatens suicide or expresses a strong wish to die
  • Seeks access to or acquires lethal means: guns, medications, poisons
  • Talks or writes about death, dying or suicide
  • Uses instant messaging, social media or phone to drop hints
  • Makes a plan for suicide: how/when/where
  • Gives away favorite things, writes a will.
  • Shows SUDDEN improvement in mood


If you notice any of these emergent warning signs of suicide follow this three step process:

1.  Show you care – Listen carefully – Be genuine: “I am concerned about how you are feeling.”

2.  Ask the question – Be direct but caring & non-confrontational: “Are you thinking about suicide?”

3.  Get help – DO NOT LEAVE HIM/HER ALONE: “You’re not alone.  Let me get you to someone who can help you.”