Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness Month? According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 Americans will be affected by a mental health condition in their lifetime, and every American is affected or impacted through their friends and family. Mental health and illness is not something that only affects adults. Children and teens are just as susceptible to anxiety, depression, mood disorders and serious mental illnesses. In fact, 1 in 5 children ages 13-18 have, or will have a serious mental illness. It is important that your child’s mental health is taken seriously in order to ensure that they live a happy, safe life!
Children’s mental health is without a doubt a very important aspect of any child’s social and cognitive development. Mental health in childhood means reaching developmental and emotional milestones, learning healthy social skills, and how to cope when there are problems. Children need to have a good mental health if they are going to live up to their full potential and truly live a life that is filled with positive experiences and the willingness to do what is best for themselves and the people around them. Mentally healthy children have an overall good outlook on life, and can function well at home, in school, and in their communities.
While children who are nurtured and raised in a positive environment will most likely have a good mental health status, children who have been affected by maltreatment and victimization are at risk for poor mental health. Child victimization has been referred to as the tobacco industry of mental health. Much the way smoking directly causes or triggers predispositions for physical disease; early abuse may contribute to virtually all types of mental illness. Researchers have found specific changes in key regions in and around the hippocampus in the brains of young adults who were maltreated or neglected in childhood. These changes may leave victims more vulnerable to depression, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the study suggests.
If you’re concerned for your child’s mental health, one of the most important things you can do to help is to empower them! There is a great deal of stigma around mental health that promotes the idea that someone with poor mental health is a “bad” or “weak” person.
This is not the case.
Encouraging your child to talk about their mental health without the fear of being judged is important not only so they can get the help they need, but it also encourages them to be a good listener to a friend who may be struggling with mental health issues.
How to Help & Empower Children to Have Good Mental Health
In order to help your child improve their mental health, you must first understand what exactly is affecting them. While it is wise to seek the help of a trained professional, there are many warning signs that you can look for to figure out what may be causing your child distress.
Anxiety is a form of stress. It can be experienced in many ways — physically, emotionally, and in the way people view the world around them. Anxiety mainly relates to worry about what might happen, worrying about things going wrong, and/or feeling like you’re in some kind of danger. Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety from time to time. These feelings can range from a mild sense of uneasiness to full-blown panic (or anywhere in between), depending on the person and the situation. Here are some warning signs that your child may be experiencing anxiety, and may need your help:
- excessive worry most days of the week, for weeks on end
- trouble sleeping at night or sleepiness during the day
- restlessness or fatigue during waking hours
- trouble concentrating
- constant and unreasoned fear
- feeling of loneliness
- associated psychosomatic pains, such as: headache, digestive problems
Here are some resources to help your child understand their anxiety, and learn to deal with it in a positive way:
It is common that a child can feel depressed at times. Losing a loved one, getting a bad grade on an assignment, going through a divorce of their parents, and other difficult situations can lead a child to feel sad, lonely, and scared. These feelings are normal reactions to life’s stressors.
But some children experience these feelings daily or nearly daily for no apparent reason, making it difficult to carry on with normal, everyday functioning. These children may have depression. The signs that a child may be experiencing symptoms of depression and not just “the blues” are:
- Continually sad mood
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Change in grades, getting into trouble at school, or refusing to go to school
- Change in eating habits
- Feeling angry or irritable
- Mood swings
- Feeling worthless or restless
- Frequent crying
- Withdrawing from friends and activities
- Loss of energy
- Low self-esteem
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Here are some resources that can help your child deal with their feelings of depression, and what do to as a parent to help keep them safe:
As providers and caretakers, adults tend to view the world of children as happy and carefree. After all, kids don’t have jobs to keep or bills to pay, so what could they possibly have to worry about?
Plenty! Even very young children have worries and feel stress to some degree.
Stress is a function of the demands placed on us and our ability to meet them. These demands often come from outside sources, such as family, jobs, friends, or school. But it also can come from within, often related to what we think we should be doing versus what we’re able to do. Stress can affect anyone who feels overwhelmed — even kids. In preschoolers, separation from parents can cause anxiety. As kids get older, academic and social pressures (especially from trying to fit in) create stress.
It’s not always easy for parents to know what to do for a child who’s feeling stressed, but here are some resources to help your child deal with their stressors:
Parents can’t solve every problem their children will experience as they go through life, but by teaching healthy coping strategies, you’ll prepare them to manage the stresses that come their way in the future.
If your child or teen is experiencing extreme anxiety and/or depression, these stressors can sometimes snowball into harmful behaviors and thoughts. Depressed children who are having suicidal thoughts and behaviors often retreat into themselves, when secretly they’re crying out to be rescued. Many times they’re too embarrassed to reveal their unhappiness to others, including Mom and Dad. Do not wait for your child to come to you with their problems or concerns. Be proactive and reach out to them in an empathetic, loving way to help protect them.
Check out these great resources to turn to if you suspect your child of have thoughts of suicide:
Sometimes, a child’s mental health situation is too severe for at-home remedies. As much as you want to help protect your child and keep them safe, sometimes it is best to reach out for professional help.
Counseling and therapy can teach kids the value of seeking help. Therapists can help kids and families cope with stress and a variety of emotional and behavioral issues. Many kids need help dealing with school stress, such as homework, test anxiety, bullying, or peer pressure. Others need help to discuss their feelings about family issues, particularly if there’s a major transition, such as a divorce, move, or serious illness.
If you are unsure if your child should see a counselor, take a look at the resources below:
If you decide that counseling may be a good choice for your child, visit http://www.goodtherapy.org/find-child-therapists-counselors.html to find a reputable counselor near you.
Talk, Text, Act
Creating Community Solutions has created a system for young people to talk about their mental health judgement and stigma-free. Groups can text START to 89800 anytime at no cost (standard text messaging rates apply). Across the country, young people are having a nationwide conversation on mental health and how to help a friend in need. Through text messaging, small groups receive discussion questions to lead them through a conversation about mental health.
To learn more about this great program, watch the video below:
MBF Child Safety Matters
Help promote mental health awareness by getting involved and educated. If you have a child or teen, work with children or teens, or just love children, help them learn and understand the importance of mental health, and how help protect themselves against victimization that may lead to poor mental health down the road.
Explore the resources that are available on the Monique Burr Foundation for Children websites www.mbfchildsafetymatters.org and www.polyvictimization.org and download our free app, “Child Safety Matters” from the App Store or Google Play.
Still looking for more ways to help promote your child’s mental wellbeing? Check out the 5 Tips to Promote Kids’ Mental Health and Wellness!