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Matters Of The Mind: Identifying Kids' Mental Health Issues

BOSTON (CBS) - Arielle Sager, 17, of Westborough, is worried about finding a job this summer and hopefully earning enough to buy a car. She's looking forward to gaining some independence as she grows up, after years of living in a group home for teens with mental health issues.

"It was hard to leave my home but at the same time, I knew I was getting the help I needed," Ari bravely told WBZ-TV.

Ari's mother, Pam, says watching her daughter melt down at home was isolating and scary.

Read: More Matters Of The Mind

"She said I don't know what's wrong with me. I just need help," said Sager. "Coming out of a 5 or 6-year-old is just heart-wrenching. And you're the mom who is supposed to have the answers."

It took years to find the right answers.

Ari was diagnosed with ADHD at a young age but by third grade, it was clear there was more to her challenges than impulsivity and a lack of attention. Pam says Ari's lack of emotional regulation prompted the family to look for more resources. She was eventually diagnosed with anxiety, depression and a mood disorder.

"I felt like I wanted to go to sleep and never wake up," Ari said.

Ari's story is not uncommon.

The Massachusetts Department of Mental Health reports 50-percent of mental illness can be diagnosed by the age of 14 and 75-percent is identified by the age of 25.

Intervention early is critical according to WBZ-TV's Dr. Mallika Marshall.

"The older they get, the more complicated the situation can become and the more difficult it can be to treat them," said Dr. Marshall.

Though every kid is different, she suggests watching for big changes in your child's behavior as a first warning sign.

"For example, are they sleeping more or less than usual? Are they having nightmares? Other possible signs something might be going on is talking about killing themselves or killing someone else," Dr. Marshall advises.

Pam Sager adds that anecdotal discussions with other parents led her to believe a lot of children with mental health concerns also have trouble with homework at a young age.

"For kids who are struggling, the school day is enough. Ari was perfect in school but when she came home, she fell apart," said Sager.

Pam suggests getting in touch with the Special Education Department at your child's school and not to be fearless when seeking help. Special Education, she says, covers a range of issues, not just the developmental disorders people often associate them with.

"Find other parents you can talk to because they will be able to direct you to people that have helped them," says Sager.

For more information on the group the Sagers are affiliated with, visit the Parents Professional Advocacy League.

Other resources dealing with mental health can be found in this reporter's notebook.

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