Seeking support for your child

If you’re concerned about your child’s social and emotional wellbeing, seeking advice from a mental health professional can help by providing reassurance and/or additional support for your family. 

Diagnosis in the early childhood years

Making an accurate diagnosis of a mental health disorder in children can sometimes be difficult. This is because children’s growth and development can vary from one child to another, and an individual child may show some signs of a disorder but not others. This is particularly the case in young children, and some disorders are easier to diagnose when kids are older and more developed.

Is a diagnosis necessary?

It can be a relief for families to have a name for their child’s difficulties. A diagnosis helps them to explain why their child is behaving the way they do and helps families to know the best way to help. It is also important to recognise that a diagnosis simply describes a pattern of common signs of a disorder. If a child is diagnosed with a mental health disorder, it is always important to recognise a child’s strengths and use these to meet their individual needs.

Mental health supports: where to start

General Practitioners

Your family GP is often the best place to start when your child needs help. They can give you advice and help you decide whether further investigation and treatment is necessary.  A doctor’s referral is needed to be able to claim the Medicare rebate for treatment from mental health professionals.

Service-based psychologist/counsellors

Some school-based preschools and early childhood services have access to a regional or on-site psychologist or counsellor. Psychologists or counsellors with specialist knowledge and experience working with children with mental health difficulties can provide assessment and treatment. They work in partnership with parents, carers and early childhood staff to support children and may recommend specialist services for families who need extra help.

Other health professionals who can help

Paediatricians

Paediatricians are doctors who specialise in treating children for a wide range of difficulties. When investigating a difficulty, they consider the child’s level of development compared to other children of the same age. A referral from your GP is needed to see a paediatrician.

Mental health professionals

Mental health professionals provide assessment and treatment for a range of emotional, behavioural, social and developmental difficulties. 

Different professions specialise in childhood mental health – child psychiatrists, psychologists, occupational therapists, social workers, speech and language therapists, psychotherapists, family therapists and nurses.

Mental health professionals offer a range of therapies, and also work with children's families/carers and other services who might be involved. 

Fees for these services can vary, so it's best to ask about out-of-pocket expenses upfront. You'll need a referral from your GP to claim the Medicare rebate.

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