Behavioral Health Frequently Asked Questions for Parents

It can be difficult for parents when their teens are going through hard times. They may not know what to do or where to turn. Below are the answers to some frequently asked questions parents or caregivers may have.

How do I know if my child needs to receive behavioral health care?

What types of behaviors should I be concerned about in my adolescent?

Adolescence is a time of many changes. At times, even typical adolescent behavior can be challenging. It's important to know that Behavioral Health is here to help families communicate and relate effectively throughout their child's development. Knowing what to expect from your adolescent and how to know what types of behaviors are concerning is important. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry's Fact for Families website can offer some guidance.

What can I expect from an initial Behavioral Health assessment?

An initial assessment is typically 60-90 minutes and may include the provider speaking individually with parents/caregivers, individually with your child/adolescent and/or a combined interview. The intent is to gather information about the problem and pertinent history, do an assessment for safety and develop preliminary treatment plans. This is also an opportunity for your provider to get to know you and your family, and for you to get to know her or him.

A provisional diagnosis may be discussed with you at the initial intake. However, the process of assessment is often ongoing, and particularly with young people may occur over one or more sessions. "Diagnosis" is simply looking at the presenting problem, and "naming" it, which is valuable in developing a positive plan of action.

Oftentimes the initial assessment may focus primarily on what's bringing you to the department, though our providers are also interested in learning about strengths and skills your child and family possess which will help you make progress towards your goals.

How do I find a Behavioral Health provider?

The Gundersen Behavioral Health Assessment & Referral Team assists first-time callers in determining a good fit for your child, adolescent or family by asking a number of basic questions about the nature of your concern. These questions include your child's age, the reason for your call, your location and scheduling preferences, and screening for urgency. The team will then schedule you or your child accordingly. Call (608) 775-7991 or (800) 362-9567, ext. 57991.

I'm concerned about my family's privacy. How is this addressed?

You have the right to privacy and confidentiality. Treatment records and conversations about your child’s treatment are kept confidential. Records and conversations about your treatment are revealed to others only as required by law or with your written consent or the consent of your legal representative. Two exceptions to professional confidentiality are: (1) reporting either suspected or actual child abuse to the appropriate authorities as required by law, or (2) when not disclosing information would pose a clear threat of physical harm to one's self or others. We encourage open communication between parents and their children. At the same time, it is also appropriate for a young person to be allowed privacy on particular issues in therapy. Sometimes it is difficult to identify how to balance these concerns, and improving communication is often an issue with which families are requesting assistance. If you or your child have questions about your privacy or the process of treatment at any point, it is important to discuss these with your current care provider.

How might group therapy benefit my child or adolescent?

Research shows group therapy is one of the most effective interventions for young people. Group therapy provides a place where you and your child can come together with others to share problems or concerns; to better understand your own situation; to better understand your own patterns of thoughts and behaviors and those of others; and to learn from and with peers. Group therapy can help you and your child learn about yourselves and improve your interpersonal relationships. It can address feelings of isolation, depression or anxiety and help to build skills. It can also help you and your child make significant changes you feel better about the quality of your lives. Group therapy also provides a safe environment where you and your child can learn about similarities that exist between all people, without discrimination. This intervention gives opportunities for learning how to give and receive constructive feedback as well as trying out and practicing new skills for communication, problem solving and decision making.

How do I know if my child is suicidal or harming themselves?

Teens who are suicidal may have some warning signs including:

  • Change in eating and sleeping habits
  • Withdrawal from things they use to enjoy
  • Neglecting personal hygiene and appearance
  • Noticeable personality changes
  • Rebellious behavior
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Declining grades in school
  • Difficulty accepting compliments or praise

Other signs that a teen may be considering suicide or even have a suicide plan include:

  • Actually saying they want to die or are thinking about committing suicide
  • Giving verbal hints such as 'I want you to know something in case I'm not here anymore' or 'I won't be a problem for you much longer'
  • Writing suicide notes
  • Giving away or getting rid of personal belongings
  • Becoming suddenly cheerful after a period of depression
  • Expressing bizarre thoughts or hallucinations

Some teens may self-injure themselves. Self-injury can come in many forms and severity. Some common behaviors include:

  • Cutting
  • Burning
  • Head-banging
  • Picking, pulling skin and/or hair
  • Biting
  • Hitting
  • Bruising

What do I do in case of an emergency/crisis?

During regular office hours, the Behavioral Health department can be reached at (608) 775-2287. The nursing staff is available to assist with coordinating communication with our Child & Adolescent Psychiatrists and for questions or concerns about medication. If you are concerned about the immediate health or safety of your child, utilizing 24-hour emergency services such as your local emergency room or law enforcement is appropriate. Additional 24-hour resources for crisis management include calling Great Rivers 211 by dialing 2-1-1 on your phone or cell phone or and the La Crosse Children's Crisis Program at (608) 784-HELP (4357). To report suspected abuse of a child, contact your local County Human Services Department and ask to speak with a Child Protection Intake worker.

Why might a child/adolescent be hospitalized psychiatrically?

A young person may be hospitalized psychiatrically if there is concern that without additional supervision that child may be at risk for significant self injury or death. Your child's primary care provider, current provider in Behavioral Health, or on-call staff can assist in making this determination and developing appropriate safety plans.

What do I need to know about tobacco, alcohol or other drugs?

This is a growing concern for adolescents, teens, young adults, their parents and community members. Although there are programs to advocate for non-use, there are adolescents, teens, young adults and their parents who deal with these struggles. There are programs available to support non-use and focus on prevention and education, as well as programs that help those who struggle with alcohol and other drug issues. Such programs are located within the community and here at Gundersen Health System.

Love + Medicine

Every day, Gundersen Health System staff deliver great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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