You’ve started noticing changes in your child’s behavior. Your daughter must be reminded multiple times to complete tasks, and her room remains in a state of chaos. Or your normally outgoing son withdraws from friends and starts speaking negatively about himself more often. Their grades start falling, and their teachers are taking notice.
What do you do?
“Talk to your child,” said Dr. Delisa Guadarrama, child and adolescent psychiatrist at South Texas Health System Clinics. “Just ask how they’re doing and if you’re concerned at all, bring them to the clinic, bring them to their primary care doctor. They can do some screenings and then send them over to a psychiatrist or a therapist if they need further evaluation.”
Guadarrama grew up in Edinburg and attended medical school at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. But it was back in her hometown where she discovered her passion for psychiatry while doing rotations at South Texas Behavioral Health Center.
“I wanted to return to the Valley and work where I thought there was the most need,” Guadarrama said. “That’s been a focus of mine for the last couple of years.”
She worked for two years at Tropical Texas Behavioral Health in Edinburg and Weslaco as a child and adolescent psychiatrist.
“We served a great deal of the population here, but there aren’t that many private psychiatrists or psychiatrists outside of that system that can see children and so I’m happy for this opportunity,” Guadarrama said of her work prior to her joining the team of South Texas Health System Clinics, which is the new name of Valley Care Clinics. This multi-specialty physician network is beginning the transition to the new brand as part of its realignment with South Texas Health System, which owns the inpatient behavioral health hospital next to the clinic.
Not to be confused with psychologists, who provide testing and therapy for patients, psychiatrists like Guadarrama prescribe medication to help patients with their diagnoses. She also sometimes partners with therapists depending on the approach for different patients.
The three issues Guadarrama sees the most often in her practice include attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, depression, and anxiety. Since these are conditions that affect children in all areas of their lives, Guadarrama often communicates and consults with both parents and teachers.
“A lot of times the teacher’s the first one to say ‘hey, your child — they’re able to do their work, but they struggle a lot with problems with their attention,’” Guadarrama said. “ADHD — it affects their school functioning, their ability to learn and to do well in school. Sometimes, medication can really make a difference for that child.”
Anxiety stems from stressors in a child’s life — mental or emotional strain centered around different situations that can manifest in behaviors like having trouble sleeping or reluctance to go to school.
“Children sometimes show a lot more physical symptoms, especially when talking about anxiety,” Guadarrama said. “So they might complain of stomach aches or headaches or problems with feeling general fatigue when this is a child who didn’t have those symptoms before.”
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the children who come into Guadarrama’s office — a comfortable space with large windows and a shelf full of colorful picture books.
“Sometimes a child comes in and discusses their symptoms and I think they might benefit more from counseling,” she said. “Other times, they come in and they are telling me many symptoms of their depression — things like poor energy, lack of sleep, lack of concentration in school, and even thoughts of hurting themselves. In that case, when something is so serious, we need to pair it with therapy, but medication may also be necessary to treat that child’s symptoms.”
Stressors that can contribute to depression and anxiety in children are things that adults are also familiar with — social tension, pressure to succeed, and other situations. But some contributors to these issues haven’t been around for very long.
“Some of the newer problems that we have are with media, technology, cellphone use,” Guadarrama said. “Some of the recent studies that have come out have shown that increase in cellphone use can cause increase in depression because of online bullying.”
She also talks with some of her clinic patients about social skills affected by cellphone use — including the prevalence of texting versus face-to-face interactions with their families and peers.
It all comes down to recognizing when children need intervention.
“So that’s what we start seeing — a difference in their ability to function — and that’s when we want to treat depression and anxiety in a child, when it’s affecting their home life or their academic success,” Guadarrama said.
There are some things parents can do to try to prevent the situations that contribute to these conditions.
“We really have to make sure that kids are falling asleep on time, that they’re getting up and eating a good breakfast — that their life at home is fairly stable,” Guadarrama said.
And parents shouldn’t be afraid to seek help from someone like her.
“I understand that a lot of parents are hesitant to give their child a pill,” Guadarrama said. “It doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen forever. Sometimes, a child just needs to be on medication for six to nine months until a stressor is resolved or until they learn to cope with certain situations.”
Since children’s brains, emotions, and hormones are still developing and changing, Guadarrama added, situations that currently require medication might also change. Once symptoms are resolved and children express interest in taking a break from the medication, Guadarrama is supportive and attentive. Under her supervision, some children thrive, while others might later return to their medication.
“All these symptoms can get better with medication,” Guadarrama said. “We want to make sure the child is set up to do the best they can at school and at home.”
If your insurance does not require referrals, request an appointment with Dr. Delisa Guadarrama by calling (956) 383-3281. Otherwise, request a referral through your child’s primary care physician or pediatrician. South Texas Health System Clinics Child and Adolescent Psychiatry office is located at 2110 W. Trenton Road, Suite B, Edinburg, TX 78539.