Help for Parents Struggling With a Troubled Child

Dr. Jamie Howard discusses ways parents can help children suffering from mental illness.
6:16 | 12/18/12

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Transcript for Help for Parents Struggling With a Troubled Child
We're going to town to the aftermath of the shootings in newtown, connecticut. There's a of questions in this country about children and mental illness. One thing that is clear about 20-year-old adam lanza, he was troubled for a long time. And his mother was unable to help him. An estimated one in five children suffer from mental disorder or illness in this country. And they're parents are often desperate for help and for answers. For millions of americans who have children with mental illness or disorders, the struggle is a daily one. It's terrifying. It's distressing. The legacy of parents being blamed for their children's mental illness lingers. We've been battling it since the fall of 2008. Reporter: In november, she prevented a tragedy by calling police on her 20-year-old son, blake, who was plotting a movie theater massacre at the screening of "twilight." Authorities stopped him in time. I think any mom would blame herself. Reporter: How to help troubled, young people? It's a topic we've covered often. Jodi richardson told us her son was becoming out of control. Threatening her physically. You think, what have I done to bring this on? What am I doing wrong? Reporter: Since our interview with richardson, her son has been diagnosed with two mental disorders. But even with a diagnosis, they're still fighting an uphill battle. Why would I want to raise a bully? I'm trying hard. The resources for parents dealing with these things vary enormously from state-to-state, county-to-county, from district-to-district. Reporter: No one knows that better than this family. When we met them in 2010 for a "20/20" interview, 13-year-old brenna was having an psychiatric episode. I cannot stop. I cannot stop. Reporter: She was begging to the hospitalized. If you have any -- I wanted to know if you have a bed. I want to know if you have a bed. Reporter: And after two hours of phone calls. They have a bed, right this second. But it changes minute-to-minute. Reporter: Three weeks later, the hospital reluctantly discharged brenna because the family's insurance wouldn't pay anymore. Leaving brenna's parents to again look for their own solutions. Brenna is now in a residential stepdown treatment program. Her mother and father are just two of many parents out there who are struggling to get the help their children need. And for more on that, we're joined by dr. Jamie howard, a clinical psychologist, with child mind institute. It's a leading treatment and advocacy group for children's mental health in this country. Good morning. Good to have you here. Thank you. There's an estimated 15 million children with mental illness in this country. Only half of them get help? Why is that? That's a being problem. We have a stigma around mental health diagnoses. We want to change that. Do you think parents don't seek the held? I think parents lack the information. And we create an atmosphere where parents can be blamed. You watch a parent watching an out-of-control child. And you see them roll their eyes. That child may have problems that warrant intervention. And any parent would have a hard time managing. No parent would take that long, two years, to treat a physical ailment. A cold or a stomach bug, we have them into the doctor. Right. You have a rash, you go to the doctor. You don't wait to see what it turns into. We need to do that with psychiatric diagnoses, as well. You and I were talking about this a moment ago. I believe in a mother's instinct, we know when something's off, not quite right. It's important we pay attention to those instincts and not be afraid. And the first step should be to take the child to the pe pediatrician. Parents wait about two years on average after the onset of psychiatric symptoms before reaching out. They have the gut instincts. But they don't always follow-up on it. We advocate for parents to go to the pediatrician and talk to the pediatricians about what's going on. What from the warning signs that something more serious may be going on with your child? You want to look for chronic irritability and unhappiness. You want to look for social loner. Not taking responsibility for anti-social acts, like stealing or being mean to kids. All those symptoms you described could be found in any child, any normal child. That's right. They can. What we want to look for is something we call function impairment. A kid's job is to go to school and learn and to concentrate. And a kid's job is to make and keep friends. If they're not able to do those two parent things because symptoms are getting in the way, we want to reach out and get help. What about the fact there's a lack of resources for so many families? I've done so much reporting over the years. We saw in that piece just now we had on "20/20," showing families desperate for help. But they can't afford it. Insurance doesn't cover it. Or a hospital doesn't have a bed for a child. We want to make it easier for parents to get the resources they need. Psychiatric disorders are common and treatable. We have a number of resources beyond your pediatrician. There's the american psychological association, the american academy of child and adolescent psychiatry. And at child mind, we have childmind.Org, which is a single destination to compile this information for parents. In the state of wyoming, they've only six child psychologists for a population of 500,000. It's something we need to pay more attention to in this country. It is. And you said, on the child mind institute, there's a questionnaire that parents can fill out to see if there's a problem with their child. Thank you so much for being here. It's important information for a lot of families. For more mental health resources go to goodmorningamerica.Com on yahoo! George? A lot more information there.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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