The greatest priority of a parent is meeting the needs of our children—if they are hungry, we feed them; if they have a cut, we bandage it; if they are ill, we take them to see a doctor. Addressing their mental health needs should also be a priority.
A study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows a number of mental disorders are on the rise among children between the ages of three and 17. The CDC concluded that approximately 1 in 5 of children in the United States, either currently or at some point during their adolescent life, experience serious symptoms of a mental health disorder. Sadly, fewer than 20 percent ever receive the help they need. Additionally, 50 percent of individuals who will face a serious mental health challenge in their lifetime experience signs of onset by age 14.
When children don’t learn healthy ways to express “big emotions,” such as sadness, anger, worry, fear or even excitement, they can develop negative, destructive behaviors that can have a profound impact on their lives. As children fall deeper into these challenges, they are more likely to turn to alcohol, drugs, self-harm such as cutting, or even suicide. It is important for parents, teachers and individuals who work with children to know the warning signs of mental health disorders so intervention can be sought quickly.
Warning signs for mental health disorders in children and adolescents:
- Mood changes. Look for feelings of sadness or withdrawal that last at least two weeks or severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships at home or school.
- Intense feelings. Be aware of feelings of overwhelming fear for no reason, or worries or fears intense enough to interfere with daily activities.
- Behavior changes. Drastic changes in behavior or personality, as well as dangerous or out-of-control behavior. Fighting frequently, using weapons, and expressing a desire to hurt others are also warning signs.
- Difficulty concentrating. Look for signs of trouble focusing or an inability to sit still for any length of time, both of which might lead to poor performance in school.
- Unexplained weight loss. A sudden loss of appetite, frequent vomiting or use of laxatives might indicate an eating disorder.
- Physical symptoms. Compared with adults, children with a mental health condition may develop chronic headaches and stomachaches rather than sadness or anxiety.
- Physical harm. Sometimes a mental health condition leads to self-injury, also called self-harm. This is the act of deliberately harming your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself. Children with a mental health condition also may develop suicidal thoughts or actually attempt suicide.
- Substance abuse. Some kids use drugs or alcohol to try to cope with their feelings.
The vast majority of individuals who receive help from a qualified behavioral health provider are able to learn the skills needed to lead happy, healthy and productive lives. During the COVID-19 crisis or other crises, individuals experience prolonged stress, social isolation and frustrations from the daily impact it has on daily life. This can heighten the likelihood that a child, teen or adult may develop a mental health challenge. It is important to encourage those experiencing mental health issues to seek help to avoid prolonged effects which can eventually lead to serious physical health complications.
Now more than ever, we need to end the stigma on mental health and help our children recognize “it’s OK to not be OK.” Encourage your child to talk about their feelings and any concerns they have. Actively listen and reassure your child you will support them no matter what. Recognizing early when your child is struggling and taking steps toward getting them appropriate support will reiterate that it is OK to struggle and it’s OK to ask for help. A visit with your child’s doctor can be a great first step in accessing the help he or she needs. In addition, many mental health providers – including Canopy Children’s Solutions – are utilizing telehealth solutions to provide therapy for those needing help with coping emotions and day-to-day struggles.
If your child or family you know is struggling during this time, contact a Canopy Care Coordinator at 800-388-6247 to see how we can help. There are also a number of resources available for support around the clock including the Suicide Prevention Helpline (1-800-273-8255), which provides free, confidential support for people in crisis. There is also a Crisis Text Line that will connect texters with a volunteer crisis counselor. You can access this service by texting HOME to 741741 on your mobile device. Lastly, the Mississippi Department of Mental Health has a designated helpline (1-877-210-8513) for help finding a certified mental health provider near you.
Whatever your struggle, know that you are not alone.