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Early Childhood Mental Health

Stigma and Treatment

Alice Boutz, LMSW, Mental Health Specialist

Mental health problems can and do occur in early childhood. Young children express and process emotions and events in ways that are very different from adults and older children. Some symptoms of mental illness that can occur in early childhood include agitation, often talking about fears and worries, difficulty making friends, or complaining about stomach aches or headaches with no medical cause. Often times stigmas prevent parents from seeking mental health treatment for young children, as they fear that the child will be labeled with a diagnosis that they may carry around for life.  However, by not seeking treatment and early intervention, mental health symptoms can grow into major life challenges not only for the child, but for the whole family unit.

Stigma is when someone views you in a negative way because of a characteristic or trait that is thought to be a disadvantage. Mental health diagnosis is often surrounded by cultural and personal stigmas.  However, in seeking mental health treatment, diagnosis do matter. Just as a physical health diagnosis, such as diabetes, helps doctors with treatment, a mental health diagnosis helps mental health professionals with treatment options. Health insurance companies also require diagnosis to show that there is a need for mental health treatment.

Early intervention is very important to mental health treatment. With early intervention, children can learn skills to overcome symptoms of mental illness. Mental health treatment can include play therapy, therapeutic groups, case management, medication management, family therapy, and parent coaching.

Sources:,, Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child