Journal of Sustainable Social Change


Many parents do not recognize psychological disorder, and current mental health service delivery programs are not sufficiently responsive to the early help-seeking dynamics of families. This mixed-methods study explored Colorado parents’ experiences of recognizing their child’s mental illness as a precursor to seeking treatment, revealing that the phenomenon of parental recognition was a process of “waiting to hear that ‘normal’ had stopped,” wherein parents miscategorized symptoms as typical behaviors in a passing developmental phase. Prior experience with mental illness appeared to significantly decrease both the length of time and the level of distress necessary for recognition. Ultimately, recognition did not occur until someone in the parents’ social network explicitly validated their concerns, which galvanized them to seek treatment. The results of this study can have wide applications for positive social change, because many chronic mental disorders manifest in childhood and benefit from early and sustained treatment. Further, mental health underscores many societal issues such as homelessness, school dropout rates, child abuse and neglect, foster care, and prison overpopulation. Positive social change and parental recognition can be promoted through public policies and programs such as universal mental health screening, mental health literacy, and school and health policies that are more supportive and responsive to the early help-seeking needs of children and families

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