Not your typical tantrum: Checking up on your child’s mental health

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"He had a very difficult kindergarten," Gretchen Jewell said of her 6-year-old son, Damon. (Source: 3TV) "He had a very difficult kindergarten," Gretchen Jewell said of her 6-year-old son, Damon. (Source: 3TV)
The Jewells adopted Damon, his biological baby sister, Ali, and 13-year-old Bri -- all three in just the last two years. (Source: 3TV) The Jewells adopted Damon, his biological baby sister, Ali, and 13-year-old Bri -- all three in just the last two years. (Source: 3TV)
"It's biochemical," Dr. Jon McCaine said. "There's an imbalance. It's highly treatable and it's just that simple." (Source: 3TV) "It's biochemical," Dr. Jon McCaine said. "There's an imbalance. It's highly treatable and it's just that simple." (Source: 3TV)
"I think we all fear being judged, but when other people learn I have a son with mental illness, I don't feel judgment," Jewell said. "I think we all fear being judged, but when other people learn I have a son with mental illness, I don't feel judgment," Jewell said.
"It's a proactive approach," Kirk Jewell, Damon's father, said. "It's not waiting until something bad happens." (Source: 3TV) "It's a proactive approach," Kirk Jewell, Damon's father, said. "It's not waiting until something bad happens." (Source: 3TV)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

As the kids head back to school, parents are making the annual appointments for shots and sports checkups. It's usually a quick visit where you're rarely ever asked about your child's behavioral health.

Now, however, some Valley pediatricians are working mental health consults into their regular checkups.

So how can you tell the difference between typical acting out and a potential mental health issue? 

Experts say there are simple behavioral signs you can watch for to know if it might be something more serious than a typical tantrum.

Damon Jewell is almost 6 and just started first grade in Phoenix.

"He had a very difficult kindergarten," his mom, Gretchen Jewell, said.

At first, she said she and her husband, Kirk, thought it was just a phase.

"We had a lot of bad days in a row. A lot!" She said. 

They adopted Damon, his biological baby sister, Ali, and 13-year-old Bri -- all three in just the last two years.

"It's been amazing -- and a challenge. But I just love them and can't imagine there being more love in any other environment," Jewell said.

So when Damon started acting out, the Jewells kind of chalked it up to typical tantrums. 

And then the outbursts became impossible to ignore

"One day he had a bad day transitioning and he kicked a window at school and the glass shattered," Jewell recalled. "It was really scary for him and for us. I think that day, we both came home crying. We knew we needed help."

Clinical psychologist Dr. Jon McCaine says his team at Bayless Pediatrics is incorporating mental health consults into all well-child checkups to help parents like the Jewells identify the red flags.

"It's biochemical," he said. "There's an imbalance. It's highly treatable and it's just that simple."

McCain said there are three main things to watch for in your child, whether toddler or teen.

  • Any family history of mental illness
  • Drastic changes in diet or behavior
  • Persistent impulsivity or irritability

"You can tell it's more serious when there's a baseline of angst, a baseline of agitation," McCaine explained. "[Watch to see] if it sustains itself day to day to day and there's no sense of relief or calm -- a persisting state, as opposed to a specific reaction to a specific problem." 

He said a lot of parents are reluctant to come to their doctor with concerns about their child's or teen's mental health because they're worried it will reflect badly on them and they feel alone or embarrassed.

In reality, about one in 10 kids 5 to 16 years old has a diagnosable mental health disorder.

That's roughly three kids in every classroom and why McCaine and his team agree more doctors need to be asking those critical questions.

"We can't afford not to do this," McCaine said. "It can't be ignored. Any problem that gets ignored tends to grow and it compounds over time."

While there are the extreme cases of untreated mental illness that erupt in violence that adds to the negative stigma, like what happened in the Columbine school shooting, there are far higher odds of self-destruction and depression.

"I'm more concerned about the kid that gives up and is a potential for suicide!" McCaine said.

"It's a proactive approach," Kirk Jewell, Damon's father, said. "It's not waiting until something bad happens."

It turns out both Damon's biological parents suffer from bipolar disorder.

So does he.

One day he had a bad day transitioning and he kicked a window at school and the glass shattered. It was really scary for him and for us. I think that day, we both came home crying. We knew we needed help.

"Once you identify it, there's a lot of hope," McCaine said.

Now with medication and weekly to monthly house visits as needed with his therapist, Damon is having more good days than bad. 

"He actually started loving school, loving his teachers and actually started making friendships instead of having conflicts with the other students," his mom said. 

McCaine said it's important for parents to stay focused on bringing back a baseline of calm in the home and at school if their child needs help so they don't end up segued into the criminal justice and juvenile corrections system.

"It's not a bad kid and you're not a bad parent," McCaine said. "It's just a situation nobody fully understood or explained."

He thinks it's time to erase the stigma of asking for help and make mental health questions a standard part of the annual checkup. The Jewells agree. 

"I think we all fear being judged, but when other people learn I have a son with mental illness, I don't feel judgment," Jewell said. "Most people are really compassionate, asking, 'How can I help? How can I come alongside you?'"

Once you identify it, there's a lot of hope.

Copyright 2016 KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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Nicole CritesNicole Crites anchors "Good Evening Arizona" weeknights 4 p.m.-6:30 p.m. on 3TV with Brandon Lee.

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Nicole Crites

The two- time Emmy award winner has been telling stories about Valley newsmakers and trends for more than a decade. Before joining 3TV's "Good Evening Arizona" team, she was the morning news anchor at KPHO-TV in Phoenix.

Nicole loves meeting new people every day and finding ways to bring context to news unfolding in our community and our world.

A wife and mother of two little ones, Nicole is always exploring Arizona to uncover exciting adventures to share. She grew up in a big family, one of six kids in Tucson.

She graduated from the University of Arizona. Work and early internships took her from Manhattan to Spokane, WA, back to Arizona, where she and her high school sweetheart settled to start a family.

Nicole loves to read and keep busy with community service and crafts, like quilting baby blankets, something her mom taught her in elementary school.  

Nicole's passion for storytelling and helping others is why she got into journalism.

She won an Emmy for her field anchoring of the deadly Tucson shooting and assassination attempt of then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and another for her KPHO "Keeping the Promise" series on military struggles and success profiles.

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