May is recognized as Children’s Mental Health Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of children’s mental health and the impact it has on their overall well-being.
Children and Mental Illness
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in six children in the United States has a mental health disorder, and nearly 50% of all lifetime mental health conditions begin by age 14.
Mental illness in children can take many forms, including anxiety disorders, depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and more. If left untreated, these conditions can lead to severe consequences, including suicide. Shockingly, suicide is the second leading cause of death among children and adolescents aged 10-24 years in the US. In 2020, the suicide rate among children and young adults increased significantly, further emphasizing the importance of early intervention and access to mental health resources. Suicide rates for LGBTQ2S+ are 4 times more likely than their straight peers and children who are bullied face higher risks of suicidal thought and actions.
It’s essential to prioritize children’s mental health, and there are several ways to do so. First and foremost, parents and caregivers need to educate themselves on the signs and symptoms of mental suffering and illness in children. Common signs include changes in behavior, trouble sleeping, poor academic performance, and withdrawing from social activities. If you notice these changes, it’s crucial to seek professional help immediately.
Promoting Mental Health
Promoting healthy habits like regular exercise, a balanced diet, and good sleep hygiene can have a significant impact on children’s mental health. Encouraging open communication and creating a safe space for children to express their feelings and emotions can also help reduce the stigma around mental illness and foster positive mental health.
Just as important is ensuring access to mental health resources is essential. Unfortunately, many children do not receive the mental health care they need due to lack of access or stigma. This month, take the time to research mental health resources in your community, including therapists, support groups, and crisis hotlines. With early diagnosis and treatment, children with mental disorders can resiliently learn to navigate their challenges, especially with the support of family.
Parenting Thoughts from Give an Hour Staffers
Here is some of our unsolicited advice that we have found to help as parents. Sometimes the best suggestions come from each other! Please comment with your advice!
- Children are born with all the biological capacity they will ever have to physically experience fight or flight and very limited capacity to regulate the response. Their big reactions are an opportunity to learn to express and regulate those feelings.
- Early intervention is the highest indicator of lifelong success. Trust your instinct.
- If you are a parent who worries whether you are doing enough or doing it right, you are in fact doing it right and you are enough.
- Attachment is greater than academics, every time.
- It’s ok if they eat chicken nuggets two nights in a row. Everything in balance.
- Think outside the box to minimize stressful activators. Offer noise reduction earplugs to help children who are sensitivity to loud sounds, an Alexa in their room helps with white noise and meditation music. Chewable anxiety necklaces are available if you have a child that chews on their clothes, hair or fingers. consider seamless socks for those with sensory issues.
- Don’t underestimate the strength of a hug- lightly compressing hugs can really help regulate anxiety and anger.
- Never forget the power of the word “yet” (I can’t do it…yet. I can’t reach it…yet. I’m not good at….yet.)
- Remind them that they can’t control what others think, say, feel, or do. But they CAN control what they think, say, feel, and do in reaction to them.
- Remember their perspective is limited to their experiences, not ours. Meet them where they are. Make them feel validated/understood before engaging in natural instincts to protect and correct.
- Tell them you want to know when they’re in a ‘funk’ and need space! Doing this helps them realize that it’s okay to be in ‘funks’ and it’s okay to sit in the feels. It also helps parents know when they have the green light to step in.
- Practice self care together as a family.
- Be willing to “sit on the bench with them”….meaning if they are experiencing an icky feeling, don’t dismiss it or get them off that bench. Show them it’s possible to feel the icky feeling and not be alone.
Children’s mental health is an essential aspect of their overall well-being, and it’s crucial to prioritize it. Mental illness is a prevalent issue among children, and suicide rates are alarming. By educating ourselves, promoting healthy habits, and ensuring access to mental health resources, we can help prevent mental health conditions from developing and ensure that children get the help they need. This May, let’s raise awareness and take action towards creating a brighter future for our children’s mental health.