Mental Health Resources for Parents
Helping a child grow into a productive and healthy human being can be difficult. Keeping children away from physical harm may be the first priority on parents’ minds. However, dealing with mental illness, depression, or other unseen ailments is also extremely important for parents and caregivers. Social conditions and disasters on the news may make it hard for young minds to find stability, purpose, and joy.
That is why it is so critical for parents and caregivers to be aware of the warning signs of poor mental health, especially in kids. It is equally important to be willing to seek out mental health services or support groups to help address the issue. Here are a few important things to know about recognizing and managing the most common mental health concerns in youth.
Prevalence of Anxiety and Depression in Children, Teens, and Young Adults
As many adults remember, adolescence can come with a confusing mix of hormones and changing circumstances. As a result, young children and teenagers can often fall prey to mental health issues. It is often a mistake to see these conditions as a stage that will pass naturally. Parents and caregivers often underestimate the number of young minds that require the assistance of mental health professionals in order to develop optimally.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), just over 7% of young people under 18 have been diagnosed with anxiety. Also, 3.2% of children have been diagnosed with depression. Worthy of note, the percentage of kids suffering from either ailment has been increasing over time. The percentage of children that have been diagnosed with either anxiety or depression increased from 5.4% in 2003 to 8.4% by 2012.
The CDC also estimates that 20% of kids with anxiety or depression did not receive treatment from mental health professionals in the past twelve months. Compounding the issue, these kids are also likely to suffer from other lifestyle or social problems—documented cases include other development disorders, behavioral disorders, or chronic physical issues like hearing difficulties or asthma. Adult caregivers for these children also report elevated frustration and stress as a result of the circumstances.
ADHD is another condition that is frequently linked with depression and anxiety in children. More than 9% of kids under 18 are diagnosed with ADHD, and another 7.4% are diagnosed with behavioral problems. Almost 74% of young people with depression also have anxiety, and just over 47% have behavior issues.
The Impact of the Pandemic on Children and Teen Mental Health
It is no secret that the pandemic has been a pressing issue on the minds of many people since 2020. While adults may have healthy coping mechanisms or outlets, children often lack the maturity to process traumatic events. Meanwhile, adults may miss the signs of a mental health problem or focus only on the destructive social behavior of the child.
An article on cnn.com indicated that both depression and anxiety doubled during the pandemic for youth. Furthermore, around 25% of youth across the globe currently suffer from depression, and another 20% are dealing with anxiety disorders. As the COVID-19 fight continues, the cumulative impact of isolation and social disruption will likely make the problem worse.
John Hopkins Bloomberg School Of Public Health notes that social interactions are central to the growth of both teens and adolescents. As a result, the current isolation steps can be especially problematic for development. Teachers and counselors in schools can act as social safety nets to catch mood disorders or changes in a child’s mental health.
Checking in With Your Child: Recognizing Signs of Teen Mental Health Problems
Recognizing that youth mental health disorders exist in our society is a good first step. However, family members must also learn how to recognize potential signs of mental health disorders in their own child so that they can seek effective treatments and find support with online educational resources. It is important to note that mental health issues go beyond the regular moodiness or rebelliousness that teenagers often exhibit.
Penn Medicine lists a number of symptoms that may potentially indicate the presence of a serious mental illness. These symptoms include changes in sleep, concentration, energy levels, appetite, or motivation. Individuals showing signs of depression or anxiety may also avoid friends or social circumstances and indicate preoccupations with suicide or self-harm.
In addition to these general changes, young people struggling with depression may demonstrate specific signs. While parenting, adults should note if their teens express feelings of worthlessness or guilt. Depression can also manifest as physical health issues such as constant pains or aches that defy effective treatment. These issues can accompany declarations of sadness or emptiness, but some children may attempt to hide these feelings.
Anxiety, on the other hand, can include a constant state of worrying or a general avoidance of social situations. Teenagers may be overly concerned about making friends or being judged. During interpersonal interactions, such kids may demonstrate symptoms like sweating, shaking, or nausea.
However, it is also possible that other behaviors can have triggers rooted in mental illness. For example, substance abuse, obsession with death or trauma, or violence could all be critical indicators. An unexplained broken bone or cuts in the skin may also require immediate assistance or medical advice.
Talking to Your Child About Mental Health
Laine Young-Walker, MD, leads the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Missouri. She believes that one of the first steps toward addressing potential mental health concerns is initiating a conversation. Children of all ages require emotional guidance and open communications about feelings, including anxiety, stress, and sadness. Parents must be willing to begin difficult conversations and let young people know that they are free to share their thoughts.
Make sure to validate a child’s feelings and look for any signs of mental illness or troubling thoughts.
Tips to Help Teens Improve Their Mental Health
Beyond conversations with teens, there are also other things caregivers can do to support young people in their mental health journey. The CDC recommends keeping the lines of communication open and honest with teens by spending time together in joint activities. It is also important for parents to get involved in school by helping with homework and having regular interactions with school officials. Finally, take an active role in helping children to practice healthy habits, including good self-care choices, regular exercise, and avoiding substance use.
Educational institutions also have an important role to play. Even without social workers, schools can contribute to a child’s mental health by providing online and community resources related to suicide prevention and other topics. Teachers and counselors can get involved in helping teens to embrace emotional learning by teaching strategies to handle difficult situations or disappointment. Administrators must also make sure to provide safe and equitable environments for both students and teachers.
Perhaps the important thing is to make sure that kids have a strong foundation for dealing with challenges, including confidential emotional support and social bonds. Just the feeling of knowing that someone cares can help teens to avoid some behavioral or mental health issues.
Parents' Role in Promoting Teens' Mental Health
As we mentioned, the most important thing that parents can do is make sure teenagers have a strong social foundation and caring environment. While institutions deal with large groups of kids, parents and caregivers have the opportunity for personal connection that serves as the first line of defense. This bond is critical to supporting a child’s mental health.
Establishing such relationships will also help young people work through an existing crisis or deal with questions about mental health challenges. It is important to note that some demographic groups may have additional challenges. The CDC indicates that LGBTQ and black students are both more likely to report thinking about or attempting suicide. Adults living in the home with the child are often best equipped to address depression or anxiety around such complicated social realities.
Helpful Parent Resources for Teen Mental Health
Fortunately, issues related to the mental health of children are common enough that there are resources to help parents, caregivers, and school professionals. Health care providers can be a great resource in helping to recognize underlying issues behind behavioral changes. There are also a number of support groups that can provide guidance and emotional backing. Below is a list of online resources and programs that can be helpful:
Mental Health America
Created in 1909, Mental Health America is one of the oldest and largest nonprofits created to address the needs of those living with mental illness. The group was founded initially to reform public and private mental institutions in order to prevent the rampant instances of abuse. Today, they also promote general mental health wellness and work to protect the rights of those impacted by mental disorders. Parents can find a wide variety of resources and information on related topics and conditions.
Helping Teens With Mental Health Disorders Transition to Adult Care
Ultimately, the job of parents and caregivers is to raise children into productive and healthy adults. However, whether it is preschool or college students, this task can have lots of complications. One of the biggest problems for late teenagers is the potential gap in professional care they can receive while transiting into young adults.
Foster care programs often end mental health resource support at 18. College students living away from home may also lose health insurance coverage or social services aimed at minors. The CDC estimates that just over 16% of youth with mental or behavioral disorders receive a plan for transitioning into adult care. This often results in stopping helpful drug or psychotherapy treatments.
The best way to prepare for this gap is by completing a transition plan with any active caregivers prior to the end of adolescent-based programs. That can include seeking additional resources such as support groups that can help young people develop healthy habits or coping mechanisms. Establishing the right social support networks and systems of care can be the best strategy for a lifetime of healthier mental habits.