By Raising Children Network, with NSW Kids and Families
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If you’re choosing mental health services for your teenage child, asking questions and gathering information will help you make the right choice. The most important thing is the needs of your child and family.

Deciding on mental health services for teenagers

When you, your child and your GP are talking about choosing mental health services for your child, you might have a few local options. Having options is great – but it can make it hard to work out which provider will be right for your child.

It’s good to explore the options with your child. You could look at locally available services online together, or talk about the type of help she feels most comfortable exploring. It can be helpful to have already looked into what’s available before you talk to your child, so that you can answer some of her questions.

To start with, you can check the accreditation and professional reputation of services:

  • Does the service have a good reputation for working with young people and families and providing a good-quality service? Your GP can help you answer this question.
  • Does the service meet the National standards for mental health services? These standards describe the level of care you can expect from Australian health service organisations, including government, non-government and private services.
  • Do staff at different services have appropriate training and qualifications? Are they members of a professional body? For example, a psychiatrist must be accredited by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists to work as a psychiatrist.
  • Is the service linked with other well-established organisations? For example, services associated with universities and hospitals are usually well regulated. This means that they have been inspected and the level of care they provide has been checked.

In addition to talking to your GP, you can also contact services directly to ask these questions.

If you have time, try to meet with the service face to face, rather than over the phone. You can get a better feeling about the service this way, and you can also get more information.

Our overview of adolescent mental health services can help you find out what services and support you can get to help your teenage child.

Finding out about mental health services for teenagers

Different mental health services for teenagers might offer different mental health treatments or therapies.

When you and your child start exploring services and the programs they offer, it helps to ask as many questions as you can. Let the questions pour out – there’s no question that’s not worth asking. Ask how the service can help you, what you can get from the service and when you can expect to get the help your child needs.

It’s a good idea to write down questions as you think of them. Otherwise the important ones might slip away.

Here are some questions you could ask:

  • What kind of therapy or treatment will my child get – inpatient or outpatient hospital care, home visits, clinical therapy sessions or group programs? 
  • Where will the treatment be provided – in private rooms, in the hospital, at a clinic, at a community centre or at school? Are video conferences an option? 
  • How long are the sessions, and how often will you see my child? 
  • Is there a cost involved, and are there any subsidies available?

You might also want to ask about whether services base their approach on sound scientific evidence. If you aren’t sure about this, you can check what services tell you with your GP.

If you feel that your questions haven’t been answered, ask again or ask another professional. Sometimes a different perspective can give you the information you want.

Practical things to consider

Practical information will also help you choose the right mental health service for your child.

By contacting mental health services, you should be able to find out things like:

  • what days and times the service is open
  • how long it takes to get an appointment and whether there are waiting lists
  • what the service’s policy is on cancelling appointments
  • how to get to the service – can you use public transport or is there a car park?

Making your decision about mental health services

The best mental health service for you and your child will be the one that best meets your child’s and family’s particular needs.

When you’ve gathered all your information about services, you can think about the:

  • comparison between reputations and accreditations of different services – do any services stand out?
  • interactions you’ve had with different services
  • personal and practical benefits offered by different services
  • financial costs of different services
  • match between your child’s needs and the programs offered by different services.

You could draw up a list of pros and cons to help you decide which service is right for your child. It’s important to talk about the pros and cons with your child throughout this process and acknowledge her thoughts and feelings about services.

The relationship with the service can affect the whole family. Where possible, you might want to take your partner with you and talk about your options together.

In some cases, you could ask to arrange a trial appointment at the service. This is a bit like a job interview – it can help you work out whether you’ll be able to have a good relationship.

A good relationship with the health professional has a big impact on how well mental health treatment is likely to work for your child.
 
 
 
  • Last updated or reviewed 25-03-2014
  • Acknowledgements This article was developed in collaboration with the Youth Health and Wellbeing Team, NSW Kids and Families (formerly Centre for the Advancement of Adolescent Health).