Overcoming Challenges in Seeking Psychological Help for Children


Zoe Barnes

Overcoming Challenges in Seeking Psychological Help for Children

Parents who are faced with a child who is struggling with mental health issues often feel alone in the world, but research shows that these difficulties are more common than we might think.

Mental health disorders are estimated to have a prevalence rate of 13.4 percent in children and adolescents worldwide (Polanczyk et al., 2015), yet only 25 to 56 percent of children and teens with mental health issues in the UK, Australia and the US access psychological support (McGinnity et al., 2005; Lawrence et al., 2015; Merikangas et al., 2011).

A systematic review of 44 qualitative and quantitative studies found that numerous perceived barriers prevent parents from seeking psychological help for their children (Reardon et al., 2017). Educational and Developmental Psychologist Dr Kimberley O’Brien addresses nine of these barriers and how to overcome them.

1 - Affordable Psychological Treatment for Children and Adolescents: Overcoming Financial Barriers

Many parents are concerned about the cost of psychological treatment as well as the potential loss of wages and travel costs to attend appointments. The good news is there are several ways to keep out-of-pocket costs down, including getting a Mental Health Treatment Plan from your GP and scheduling Telehealth appointments that can be done from home.

“Accessing child and adolescent mental health professionals is no longer expensive. Quirky Kid recently launched BriteChild®, allowing for parents and educators to ask unlimited questions for only $29 per month. We wanted to remove the barriers for accessing treatment, especially for families in remote areas”.

2. Recognising the Importance of Early Intervention for Child Mental Health

Parents may not realize the severity of their child's mental health or learning difficulties and may hesitate to seek psychological help. They may think their child is just going through a phase or will outgrow the issue. However, it's crucial for parents to trust their instincts and seek help if they notice any changes in their child's behavior that persist for more than a few weeks.

Well-meaning friends and family members may also downplay the severity of the problem, which can cast doubt in the parents' minds. However, seeking professional help early on often leads to better outcomes.

“Early intervention is key because young children are more open to learning new skills. Parents who are open about issues impacting their family are more likely to see improvements as secrecy tends to make children feel worse”.

There are many mental health and learning difficulties that parents should be aware of, including:

  • Depression: Children may experience symptoms of depression, such as sadness, irritability, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, and a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed.
  • Anxiety: Children with anxiety may experience excessive worry, fear, or nervousness that affects their daily life and activities.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Children with ADHD may struggle with paying attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, which can affect their academic and social performance.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Children with ASD may have difficulty with social communication and interaction, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviors.
  • Learning Disabilities: Children with learning disabilities may struggle with reading, writing, math, or other academic skills, which can impact their academic performance and self-esteem.

It's important for parents to seek psychological help if they notice any of these issues in their child. Early intervention can improve the child's outcome and prevent the issue from worsening.

3. Overcoming Logistical Barriers in Accessing Child Psychology Services

Parents frequently cite long waitlists to access a child psychologist and inconvenient appointment times or locations as obstacles to pursuing psychological intervention. In particular, families who live in rural areas may have issues finding a local professional who can help.

“With the recent launch of BriteChild®, our clinical team has opened up more availability on their schedules to absorb new clients. We absolutely love servicing clients in diverse locations because as child psychologists, we learn more about a broad range of interesting issues and we feel especially effective when we have loads of resources to share. It’s very satisfying work”.

To overcome these logistical barriers, it's important to highlight the solutions:

  • Increased availability: Services like BriteChild®, offer improved availability on psychologists' schedules, allowing for quicker access to appointments.
  • Flexible scheduling: BriteChild and similar platforms offer flexible scheduling options to accommodate parents' needs, including evenings or weekends.
  • Telehealth appointments: Parents can take advantage of telehealth or online appointments, eliminating the need for travel and providing greater convenience for families in remote or rural areas.

4. Social stigma

“There is no longer social stigma when it comes to seeking support for young people - It’s just a case of good parenting and something to be proud of. Our clients typically experience admiration and respect for reaching out to services, like BriteChild®.

Suggests, Dr. Kimberley.

5. Fear of judgement from the psychologist

Some parents may be hesitant to seek psychological help for their child due to fears of being judged or blamed for their child's behaviour or mental health issues. They may worry that their parenting style or past actions will be scrutinised, and that they could face consequences such as having their child taken away.

To alleviate these concerns, it's important to understand how child psychologists work and what parents can expect from therapy sessions. Child psychologists are trained to support the whole family and work collaboratively with parents to identify the underlying causes of a child's difficulties. They are not there to judge or blame parents, but rather to provide guidance and support.

According to Dr. Kimberley,

"We are always guided by the families we work with. Some parents don’t want us to contact the school or to share assessment reports, and we ultimately respect the referring parent’s decision. As psychologists, we advocate for children and provide information to help parents make decisions that work for their entire family unit.”

During therapy sessions, parents can expect to participate in discussions and activities aimed at identifying and addressing the child's specific needs. The psychologist may also provide guidance on positive parenting techniques and coping strategies to help manage challenging behaviours.

It's important for parents to remember that seeking psychological help is a proactive step towards helping their child. They are not alone, and there is no shame in seeking support from a trained professional.

Further Reading


6 Signs Your Child is Overscheduled

6. Previous negative experiences

If parents have sought psychological support for their child in the past and the experience wasn’t a positive one - either from the child’s or the parents’ perspective or both - they might hesitate to try again. Other families may distrust health or mental health professionals in general because of unpleasant past experiences.

“Finding the right psychologist to fit with your family can be a long process. At Quirky Kid® we tend to work with siblings. They tend to come and go over the years. It’s amazing to see young children  grow into confident older adolescents. It’s one of my favourite parts of the job”.

7. Fear of consequences for the child

“Children are very familiar with seeing support teachers in classroom. Inclusion policies at school have encouraged classrooms full of mixed abilities and resulting in a much greater tolerance for diversity - It’s a wonderful evolution since I was at school”.

Says Dr. Kimberley,

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8. Cultural or language barriers

Families who come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds may avoid seeking help for their child because they’re concerned the psychologist may not understand their beliefs and values or there will be a communication barrier.

“One of the best aspects of telehealth has been giving psychologists greater reach in the community and more exposure to cultural and linguistic diversity. Breaking down barriers to accessing mental health support is a core goal of BriteChild® by using translating resources is all part of the service”.

9. Child’s reluctance to receive psychological support

It is not uncommon for a child to be reluctant to receive psychological support, even when they are struggling with mental health or learning difficulties. They may feel ashamed or afraid to be ridiculed by their peers, or they may not even recognize that they have a problem.

“Some children may not want to see a psychologist because they fear they will be stigmatised or that it means something is wrong with them,”

says Dr. Kimberley. “

Thankfully Quirky Kid® has mastered the art of engagement using illustrations, play-based interventions and a keen eye for following the child’s interests”

It may also be helpful to involve the child in the decision-making process.

"Give them a say in what they’d like to do to help solve the issues”, says Dr. Kimberley. "This can help them feel more in control and invested in the process."

Want to speak to a professional? We’re here for you.

The Quirky Kid Clinic is a unique place for children and adolescents aged 2 to 18 years. We work from the child’s perspective to help them find their own solutions. If you’re ready to seek professional help for your child, you can:

View article references

  • Green, H., McGinnity, A., Meltzer, H., Ford, T., & Goodman, R. (2005). Mental Health of Children and Young People in Great Britain, 2004. PsycEXTRA Dataset. https://doi.org/10.1037/e557702010-001
  • Lawrence, D., Johnson, S., Hafekost, J., De Haan, K. B., Sawyer, M., Ainley, J., & Zubrick, S. (2015). The mental health of children and adolescents: report on the second Australian child and adolescent survey of mental health and wellbeing.
  • Merikangas, K. R., He, J., Burstein, M., Swendsen, J., Avenevoli, S., Case, B., Georgiades, K., Heaton, L., Swanson, S., & Olfson, M. (2011). Service Utilization for Lifetime Mental Disorders in U.S. Adolescents: Results of the National Comorbidity Survey–Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 50(1), 32–45. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2010.10.006
  • Polanczyk, G. V., Salum, G. A., Sugaya, L. S., Caye, A., & Rohde, L. A. (2015). Annual Research Review: A meta-analysis of the worldwide prevalence of mental disorders in children and adolescents. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 56(3), 345–365. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.12381
  • Reardon, T., Harvey, K., Baranowska, M., O’Brien, D., Smith, L., & Creswell, C. (2017). What do parents perceive are the barriers and facilitators to accessing psychological treatment for mental health problems in children and adolescents? A systematic review of qualitative and quantitative studies. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 26(6), 623–647. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-016-0930-6

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