Children’s mental health issues are real, common and treatable. One in five children has a diagnosable mental health concern, but more than half do not get the help they need. As parents, we need to understand what mental health means and help our kids stay healthy.
What is Mental Health?
Just like physical health, mental health is about nurturing our children. While physical health involves caring for the body, mental health involves caring for our children’s emotions, behaviors and general mental state. Good mental health makes it possible for our children to learn new things, interact with others in healthy ways, gain self-esteem and develop a positive attitude.
A good place to start is to consider the steps you take to protect your child’s physical health and then compare that to the many ways you can protect your child’s mental health:
I SUPPORT MY CHILD’S PHYSICAL HEALTH BY PROVIDING:
- nutritious food
- safe shelter
- adequate time for sleep
- physical activity/exercise
- healthy home
I SUPPORT MY CHILD’S MENTAL HEALTH BY PROVIDING:
- unconditional love
- opportunities to play
- safe & secure surroundings
- encouragement & support
- appropriate guidance & discipline
- opportunities to talk, discuss feelings
Myths about Kids & Mental Health:
1. Mental health is about being “crazy” and can’t be fixed. FALSE!
A child’s mental health covers ALL types of issues (including anxiety, depression, learning disabilities, eating disorders and more). And there are many ways to help a child cope with these issues, especially when they are recognized and treated early.
2. Mental health issues are a sign of weakness. FALSE!
It’s easy to blame a child’s declining school work, for example, on a poor work ethic. However, it may be that a child’s poor performance is in fact a symptom of an underlying mental health issue. The problem itself (whether it’s anxiety or AD/HD) is a medical condition for which they need help.
3. A child can manage a mental illness through willpower. FALSE!
An illness is just that – a serious issue affecting a child’s ability to live his or her life. If a child was diagnosed with a physical ailment, you would seek treatment from your pediatrician immediately. Parents should do the same with mental health issues, especially because early intervention can be critical in effective treatment.
4. Having a child with mental health issues makes me a bad parent. FALSE!
A child’s mental health issues can have nothing to do with their home or family. But parents DO play a vital role in seeking out services, support and treatment. It’s vital that parents create conditions to help a child continue to cope and transform.
Even when parents are providing support, it can be critical to seek professional resources and treatment. Untreated mental health issues can make it difficult for a child to function at home, school or in the community. Without treatment, children with mental health issues are more likely to drop out of school, have contact with the criminal justice system and depend on social services for life.
WARNING SIGNS may indicate a need for professional assistance:
- Decline in school performance
- Increase in worry, anxiety or stress
- Repeat avoidance of school or other regular activities
- Hyperactivity, restlessness, fidgeting
- Persistent nightmares, bedwetting
- Intense aggression, disobedience
- Frequent temper tantrums
- Lack of emotion, sadness or irritability
SOURCES OF HELP for support,information & referrals include:
- Mental health hotlines
- Libraries, community rec centers
- Professionals such as pediatrician, school nurse, school counselor
- Parent support groups
- Community-based psychiatric care
- Family resource centers
- Crisis outreach teams