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Families of children with mental health, emotional and behavioral needs often navigate multiple systems to access necessary supports and services.  Families may also face additional challenges due to stigma about mental health.  PACER’s Inspiring Opportunities Project will bring together parents, youth and professionals to help families receive the resources and support their children need.  This project will also promote increased understanding of children’s mental health, emotional, and behavioral need in the broader community.


Make The Stigma Disappear

Teens with mental health challenges offer strategies for supporting youth with mental illness

How well do you know your Mental Health Facts?

Misunderstandings about mental illness can fuel negative attitudes and beliefs. One way to make stigma disappear is to take time to learn the facts.   Check out your mental health awareness by taking this mental health fact quiz.

  1. Mental illnesses can be cured with willpower.


    False. A mental illness does not stem from character flaws, and willpower doesn’t cure a mental illness. Mental illness is a category of many different mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, anorexia, or bipolar disorder. Current research provides a better understanding of how the brain works and what happens when a child, youth, or adult experience challenges with thought, mood, behavior, or interactions with others. Just as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes are medical conditions, so is mental illness.

    To learn more about mental illness and brain research:

  2. A youth who has biological parents with a mental illness will also develop a mental illness.


    False. Research has found that having a biological relative such as a parent, grandparent, or sibling with a mental illness is a risk factor; it does not determine whether someone will develop a mental illness. Other risk factors associated with developing a mental illness include having a chronic medical condition, experiencing abuse as a child, experiencing traumatic life situations, exposure to toxins such as alcohol during pregnancy, or misuse of substances including alcohol or drugs. Research demonstrates that protective factors can help to counteract these risk factors. Examples of protective factors include a good social support system, adequate food, safe shelter, financial security, good problem-solving skills, and access to positive recreational activities.

    To learn more about risk and protective factors:

  3. Children and teens can have a mental illness.


    True. Childhood mental health disorder is a term used to explain all mental disorders that can be diagnosed and begin in childhood. Many adults who have a diagnosed psychiatric disorder experienced the onset of their symptoms in adolescence or childhood. Embarrassment, fear, peer pressure, lack of community support, and stigma can prevent or delay a person from getting help. Early intervention is important to managing and recovering from mental health challenges.

    To learn more about children’s mental health:

  4. Children or youth with mental health challenges never get better.


    False. With the right kind of medical care, many children and youth who experience mental health challenges can and do lead healthy, productive, and satisfying daily lives. While the illness may not go away, the symptoms or challenges can be managed with appropriate treatment and support. Many individuals benefit from supports and interventions that are evidence-based and guided by principles of self-determination, recovery, and cultural competency.

    To learn more about:       

  5. When children or youth receive a mental health diagnosis, they will have to take medications.


    False. A mental health diagnosis does not always mean the child or youth will need to take medications.  Some children and youth benefit from medications as part of their overall treatment plan, but there are other interventions that can be considered. 

    To learn more about mental health diagnoses or medication management:

  6. People with mental illnesses are violent.


    False. The majority of people living with a mental illness are not violent and are not at risk of becoming violent. One research study looked at violence risk among people with serious mental illness and found a mental health diagnosis is not a significant indicator of whether a person will be violent. Factors that do tell us something about whether a person might be at risk for violence include: (1) a history of violent victimization early in life; (2) substance use; and (3) exposure to violence in their environment. There are a small number of individuals who experience mental health challenges that can include aggression. For these individuals, access to treatment, supports, and timely intervention are necessary components for recovery.
    To learn more about the myths about violence and mental illness:

    To learn more about initiatives to support the mental health of youth who are at high risk of violence:

    To learn more about children, youth, and behaviors:

  7. Having a mental illness is different than having an intellectual impairment.


    True. Many people confuse mental illnesses with intellectual disabilities, but they are different from each other. Mental illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, mood, daily functioning, or ability to relate to others. Intellectual disabilities are a type of developmental disability characterized by significant limitations in both intellectual functioning (e.g., a person’s IQ or intellectual quotient) and adaptive behavior (social and practical skills). Individuals who have an intellectual disability are more susceptible to developing a mental illness.

    To learn more about intellectual disabilities and mental illnesses:

  8. All youth who misuse drugs or alcohol are choosing not to get their act together.


    False. Youth who misuse drugs or alcohol may be doing so to self-medicate because of an unidentified or untreated mental health condition. They may also be struggling with an addiction that requires medical intervention. Ongoing alcohol and drug use can play a role in the development or worsening of some mental health symptoms and disorders. A youth struggling with alcohol or chemical use could benefit from a comprehensive professional evaluation to identify possible treatment or supports.

    To learn more about substance abuse and mental health challenges in youth:

  9. Parents who have a mental illness can be good parents.


    True. The qualities that make “good parents” apply to all parents, including those who live with a mental illness. Some parents may require extra assistance with parenting tasks when faced with any medical condition or health challenge including a mental illness. Unfortunately, parents face significant barriers to accessing treatments and parenting supports because of the stigma associated with mental illness. Family life can be healthy and meaningful when both parents and children acknowledge and understand the illness, have support, and communicate with each other about the issues.    

    To learn more about parenting with a mental illness:

  10. Schools have a responsibility to help children with mental health challenges.


    True. Children are required to attend school. Public schools are required to provide education for all students, including those with disabilities. There are options for a child with mental health challenges who is having difficulty with school, including both informal and formal supports. An informal support could be attending a “friendship group” or having a “check-in” person. A formal support might include having a 504 Plan, or doing an evaluation for Special Education services. Some schools have school-wide initiatives to promote the mental health and wellness of all students. These might include positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS), social-emotional learning (SEL) , school-linked mental health services, bullying prevention initiatives, trauma-informed care, and youth mental health crisis response services.  

    To learn more about supports in schools:

Teenagers and Mental Health

3 easy strategies parents could use with challenging behavior

Featured Publications

  • Planning for a school meeting about your child’s behavior needs

    Are you receiving frequent calls from school about your child having behavior problems?  Would you like to feel more confident and prepared when attending a school meeting about your child’s behavior needs? This PACER publication can help you with strategies to more effectively communicate with school staff about your child’s challenging behaviors.  It also includes questions you and your child’s school team can consider to help you better understand your child and their behavior needs.

  • Tantrums, Tears, and Tempers: Behavior is Communication

    What’s really going on when your child throws a tantrum or has an extreme behavior that can’t be easily calmed?  This PACER publication discusses behavior as a form of communication, identifies different factors that can influence a child’s behavior, and provides positive strategies for responding to challenging behavior

  • Tips for Teachers, Principals and School Support staff from Students with mental health and behavioral disabilities

    Does your child with mental health needs tell you their teachers don’t understand them?  Do you wish you had a resource for school staff that helped them better understand their challenges? Written by youth with mental health and behavioral challenges, this PACER publication provides ideas for parents to share with teachers, principals and school support staff when working with students with mental health needs.  


A Siblings Perspective

Tips for living with a sibling with developmental delays and challenging behavior

Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports

A proactive strategy for defining, teaching and supporting student behavior resulting in academic and social gains and a positive school environment

Research shows that when a school environment is positive and predictable, students feel safer, have better academic performance, higher test results and make better behavior choices. Schools also show a gain in instructional time, reduction in out of school suspensions and discipline referrals and show a decrease in referrals to Special Education.

Is it a curriculum?

No. PBIS is not a curriculum, but a process of planning and problem solving that includes direct teaching of social behaviors like academics. The basic PBIS approach is to use proactive, research-based strategies to teach clearly defined behavioral expectations. Most importantly, it establishes ongoing behavior supports that can be used by ALL students, staff, volunteers, parents and community members.

Can parents be involved?

Yes! Research shows that parent involvement in a child’s school experience greatly increases their chances for academic success, positive behavior, higher self-esteem, better attendance and greater motivation. Parents are key sources of information about their child, are their child’s first teachers, and have strengths and interests that can contribute to the educational process. When schools and families work together to support learning, children tend to succeed not just in school, but also throughout life. (National PTA, n.a.; Newman L. 2005; Henderson and Berla, 1997).

Learn more


Visit PACER's other sites: Teens Against Bullying | Kids Against Bullying | FAST Family Support | FAPE | MN SEACs

Translated content: Hmoob/Hmong | Español | Soomaaliga/Somali

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