It Takes a Village: Let’s Address Childhood Mental Illness

Watching a young person navigate the pitfalls of middle school and high school can be excruciating, especially if those years were hard for you. Once we become adults, we take on a new set of problems like paying bills and getting ahead at work, but kids suffer from mental stress and illness a lot more than people realize. Unfortunately, many kids who need mental healthcare won’t get it. This has to change.

What do children suffer from? According to government statistics:

  • Twenty to twenty-five percent of youth meet the criteria for a mental disorder that could impair them for a lifetime;
  • Seventeen percent of youth experience a diagnosable psychological or behavioral disorder;
  • Substance abuse is the most common mental health issue for young people. Also common is anxiety, depression and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder);
  • Nearly fourteen percent of young people have seriously considered suicide;
  • More than one in four children from low-income families will suffer from a mental health disorder;
  • The vast majority of children who need psychological support will not receive it.

What can you do to assist your child if s/he is one of the many children who needs psychological help at some point in his/her developing years?

  • Concerned parents should not trust that someone else will step in to help when they realize something isn’t right. While anyone who knows your child well may be able to tell that something is wrong, as their legal guardian only you will be able to follow through and connect your child to the mental health services they need. Be proactive.
  • As your child grows, develop a trusted network of teachers and family friends who have a pulse on your child and ask them to contact you if anything seems wrong. Use their thoughtful reflections to bolster your own observations about your child, not replace them.
  • Make sure you avoid one of the most harmful parenting practices you can foster: trying to be your child’s friend instead of their parent. While some guardians can feel pressured to constantly keep their child happy, what your child wants may not always be good for them. Set limits and keep them.
  • Ignoring a child’s recent unusual behavior or letting something slide isn’t protecting them or doing them a favor. If you suspect your child may be experiencing mental health issues like anxiety, depression or substance abuse, make a point to talk to them about it in a calm and honest conversation. Even if they don’t want to talk, you’ll be showing them that you care enough to notice and that you are willing to take action on their behalf.
  • For those children who live in poverty or do not have caring parents, we all have a responsibility to keep an eye out for them. If you are a Scout leader, youth pastor or coach, pay extra attention to children who don’t have an advocate and speak out for them whenever you can.

Some of life’s most difficult experiences, like the pain of a first love gone sour or falling out with childhood friends, are almost unavoidable. While everyone goes through a rough patch from time to time, you owe it to your child to speak up and talk to them if you have a feeling something is truly going wrong. With the help of a whole community of people who love and care for your child, combined with the professional guidance of a school counselor or therapist, you can often prevent a worsening of mental illness.

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