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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Childhood Mental Health Problems and Parental Embarrassment

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Dec 13th 2010

Childhood Mental Health Problems and Parental EmbarrasmentFollowing, are two cases that are conglomerates of many varied cases:

1. One mother insisted that her young son remain in regular classes despite the fact that he suffered from mental retardation. In the end, she complied and the child made a happy adjustment in special education.

2. A married couple came for counseling because of constant arguing. The therapist had a "hunch" that he husband had ADHD. He was referred for psychological testing and the hunch proved correct. Then, the patient revealed that he was diagnosed in elementary school but his parents refused any kind of treatment. Even at the present time, he feared telling his parents about the diagnosis even though he is an adult over thirty years old.

The results of research was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry that revealed the fact that parents commonly resist talking to their doctors and their children's mental health problems because they feel embarrassed, fear being judged as incompetent parents, worry that their child will be stigmatized and that they will always carry a label of being mentally ill.

One of the issues that permeates the medical system is that MD's are so busy that they lack time to really observe the child who is brought in for other health issues. Yet, it is a well established fact that most mental health problems for both children and adults show up in the doctor's office. The shortness of time with the doctor causes reluctant parents for discussions with the pediatrician. Other parents view the doctor visits and medical only and, therefore, not a place to raise psychological and behavior problems. Of course, this is not true.

Among the problems that children experience are, ADHD, Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Anxiety Disorders among them, Separation Anxiety, Learning Disabilities, Autism, and others. Children tend to express these types of problems by acting our because they don't know how to verbalize.

The fact is that children rely on their parents care for their needs and problems. While adults are usually able to be aware that they are having a problem, children are not. If parents will not talk about their behavioral problems, they will go undiagnosed and untreated. Ultimately, those problems will worsen

I always counselled the patients I worked with in psychotherapy to find another MD if they are unable to talk to their doctor. MD visits are not only medical. The doctor's office is often the first place to get help. The physician can either treat the issue or refer to psychiatrists and psychologists. Today, young doctors are trained to listen and talk to their patients and take the time to offer advice and psychological help.

In my opinion, any doctor you cannot talk to or have a good relationship with is not the person you should continue seeing.

Your comments and questions are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD




Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Of Course! - Chrisa Hickey - Dec 13th 2010

It's always the parents' fault when a child has a mental health issue - that's the prevailing opinion of society.  So of course parents don't want to be judged.  No one judges parents of children who have diabetes or cancer.  But mental health issues?  We must be like Sybil's mom, right?  That's the stigma that led Eve Oliphant and other parents to found NAMI - the National Alliance on Mental Illness - all those years ago.  

Finding another doctor is what I advocate to other parents of children with severe mental health conditions, but that's often easier said than done, with the shortage of pediatric psychiatrists in the US.  Parents should also find support, like the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation at, who can help parents who suspect, or whose children have been recently diagnosed with any mental health concern.  

Don't Delay - Steve Thorson - Dec 13th 2010

Such an important topic.  Usually, I think, parents talk with their friends about difficulties with their children before they talk with their doctor.  They also tend to minimize the challenges, sometimes, because they don't want to be seen as "bad parents."  Parents face so many challenges!  When a parent comes to you as a friend just not knowing what to do with a situation in the home, I'd encourage you to not minimize or say "it's probably just a 'stage' of growing up," but, instead, encourage them to go and talk to a doctor or other professional early on.  Better safe than sorry. 

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