FAQ with Dr. Cooper
Parents: Don't Be Afraid To Talk About Mental Health!
Dr. Takesha J. Cooper grew up in Moreno Valley, dreaming of a career as a pediatrician. She graduated from the Keck School of Medicine at USC. But in the final analysis, it was not pediatrics, but psychiatry, that captured her imagination.
"I did a psychiatry rotation, and it really clicked with me," Cooper said. "I was good at talking with patients and getting to the root of their struggle." She found out that she could specialize in child psychiatry. "That was it," she said. "That was where I wanted to be."
Now she is a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Riverside University Health System, serving as the Associate Medical Director for the mid-county region and practicing in Lake Elsinore at the RUHS Behavioral Health Clinic. She is also an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and Associate Program Director, Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship Program UC Riverside School of Medicine.
She answers questions from parents who are not sure if they are seeing normal adolescent growing pains or the onset of a mental health problem. She took time for a quick Q & A about adolescent mental health.
Q: Could my teen be addicted to computer games?
A: Screen time can be a problem in both boys and girls. For boys, it's typically gaming that hooks them. For girls, it is typically social media. We see a lot of bullying through social media which can cause problems and lead to depression or anxiety. But if time online is causing school failure, it is time to act. If your child is lying about it, or isolating in their room, it can be a sign of depression. Are they uninterested in anything else? Then that is a concern. Gaming is so pervasive. But the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than an hour of electronics per day. I tell parents to look for something else the child is good at, sports or art, because it can draw them into other social experiences. Also, online time should come after their homework and other responsibilities are done.
Q: My daughter is injuring herself, and then hiding it. Why would she do this?
A: Self harm, typically in the form of cutting on the wrist or forearm, calls for immediate action. The injury might happen with razors or thumbtacks or paper clips. They often cover it up. Parents get so confused and angry about this. What kids tell me is that sometimes they feel nothing inside, so cutting is one way to feel something. Or, they have a lot of pain inside and cutting helps them focus on an external pain rather than the internal pain. That is where therapy comes in. We help them understand what their triggers are, and then we help them cope with those feelings and triggers with such as breathing techniques, drawing, listening to music or other strategies.
Q: Should I medicate my child?
A: It at least deserves consideration. There are downsides to not treating the problem. Impulsive behavior, or depression can be dangerous if they are not treated. I give parents a lot of information about the medication and what it will do. I suggest that we try it for a limited time to see if it is helpful. That often helps parents ease in. No one wants their child to be sick, because they feel such a stigma. But mental health issues are really common. Sometimes it is the stigma that stops people from seeking help. Parents who want to do the best by their child will approach the problem head on.
Q: How do I get services for my child?
A: You can be referred to a psychiatrist by your own pediatrician or your health plan. Or if you'd rather, Riverside University Health System, has excellent public behavioral health programs for children and adolescents, located in Corona, Indio, Moreno Valley, Lake Elsinore, San Jacinto, Temecula and Riverside. These options are for people of all incomes. Find a list of clinics at: https://www.rcdmh.org/ChildrenServices. Or to get started, call (951) 358-4840 during business hours.
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