Jesuit Social Services
Understanding the Problem

Mental Health

How do I Know if it's a Mental Illness?
1. Many young people experience mental health symptoms or difficulties without meeting all the criteria necessary for a formal diagnosis of mental illness.
2. A young person who is experiencing mental health symptoms may benefit from a psychiatric assessment. An assessment can help the young person and their family to understand what is happening to them and may help them to get treatment.
3. During the assessment, you and your young person will be asked questions about the history, frequency and severity of the symptoms and possible contributing factors.
4. It is important that the diagnosis and treatment plan are explained in language that the young person understands, so they can make informed choices about managing their symptoms.
5. Mental illness should be thought of in a similar way to physical illness. People with a mental illness should be shown understanding, rather then judgement and blame.

'Normal' emotional times

All of us have strong feelings at different times that may be hard to cope with. Strong feelings of fear, sadness, grief and anger sometimes seem to consume us. Our moods can change quickly for different reasons such as: stress, illness, hormonal changes, change of seasons, a relationship breakdown, the death of someone close to us, unemployment, accidents, abuse, isolation or drug use. Sometimes it is a matter of coping as best we can, as we slowly recover.

Young people as they go through different developmental stages and hormone changes usually experience mood swings and fluctuating emotions.

If however you suspect that your child is experiencing more than the normal mood swings associated with adolescent development and that they may be experiencing symptoms of a mental illness, it is best to seek advice and support earlier rather than later.

  • If you are concerned about your child's mental health, talk about the symptoms your young person is exhibiting with your doctor or another health professional and discuss whether your child needs a mental health assessment.
  • Encourage your child to seek assistance or an assessment from a mental health professional eg: doctors, counsellors or other mental health services, if you feel this is necessary.
  • Find out more information about mental illnesses and treatment approaches from websites, books and television programs.
  • Seek support from family and friends

Mental health symptoms

When a mental illness or a psychiatric disorder is diagnosed, it means someone has the symptoms that "match" this particular disorder. Many people experience mental health symptoms or difficulties, such as anxiety or depression, without meeting all the criteria necessary for the diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder. Even though there has not been a formal diagnosis, coping with the symptoms may be very hard for everyone involved. If you are concerned, it is important to seek professional advice about the severity of the problem.


Getting a psychiatric assessment completed can be very beneficial. It can help the young person and their family to understand the problem and lead to getting helpful treatment. An assessment does not necessarily lead to a diagnosis or label. It does not necessarily mean the person will be given medication.

Some people fear having a mental health assessment completed in case they are told they are "crazy" and then "locked up". But the days of putting young people who experience mental health symptoms into institutions are long gone. Responses to mental health issues have changed a lot in recent years. It is more likely that your young person and you will be given useful information and strategies will be suggested to relieve the symptoms they are experiencing. Medication may be recommended and if the condition is serious, a community mental health team may monitor treatment.

When a young person has a mental health assessment, they will usually be asked numerous questions about their symptoms, their thoughts and feelings, their family history, their social life and their education and employment history.

The purpose of the assessment is to help the practitioner gain an understanding of the history, frequency and severity of the symptoms and also of factors that may be contributing to the illness. A diagnosis is then usually made and a treatment approach recommended.

If the young person does not understand what it all means, he or she needs to ask the professional to explain their diagnosis and recommendations carefully in simple language. It is important that they understand what is being said, so they can make informed choices with your help and support. Mental health professionals should always be prepared to explain their conclusions in language that young people can understand.
More about Mental Health
What is a Mental Illness?
Suicidal Behaviour
What Causes Mental Illness?
How Do I Know if it's a
Mental Illness?
Diagnosis and Who Can Help?
Support Services
What Else Can I Do?
Related Help Sheets
What is a Mental Illness?
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