What are your qualifications?

In a respectful, nonconfrontational way, it's important to ask your mental health provider whether he or she is qualified to help a person with your concerns. Ask about or research where your provider was educated, what his or her degrees are, and any areas of specialization. If she generally treats adolescents with eating disorders and you're an adult with marital problems, for instance, she might not be the best person to help you.

Does my child have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

Between two and 18 percent of children have been diagnosed with ADHD. The disorder is two and a half times more common in boys than in girls. Children with ADHD have a classic triad of symptoms. They are inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive. They have trouble staying quiet, sitting still, listening without interruption, sharing, and taking turns. The disorder may persist into adulthood, sometimes minus the hyperactivity. Symptoms may first appear in adults. Adults with ADD or ADHD may be disorganized, messy, forgetful, late, restless, or distractible. Both children and adults with this disorder tend to have periods of hyperfocus on certain tasks in which they become absorbed.

My preteen is sulky, bitter, and hostile. Should I give him/her time to outgrow it?

Mental health disorders among young people are often blown off. Behavioral problems such as theft, vandalism, and classroom disruptiveness often occur in children with depression. This delinquent behavior eclipses the child's depressive or antisocial symptoms, and the disorder goes unrecognized and untreated, leaving the door open for drug abuse or suicide in adolescence. Medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two are more likely to be effective when a mental health disorder is diagnosed early. Don't wait to seek help.

My wife gets very testy during her monthly cycle. What's going on?

Some women have episodes of depression and severe irritability that coincide with the onset of their menstrual periods. This is known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), and it should be taken seriously. It's not just an excuse for behaving obnoxiously or a way of getting attention. PMDD can be treated effectively with antidepressant medications, contraceptive pills to regulate hormones, or other medications. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps patients learn how to alter destructive or self-defeating thought patterns, may also be helpful.

My elderly father has seemed down lately. Is he at risk of suicide?

The rate of suicide is higher among older white men than among any other group, including male teenagers. Even more startling is the fact that 70 percent of these older men saw their primary care doctors within a month of taking their lives. Greater alertness among physicians, relatives, friends, and concerned neighbors could prevent many of these unnecessary deaths. About 80 percent of older adults who are depressed can be treated effectively with medication, therapy, or both.