Protecting Your Child’s Mental Health

This past year has come with a unique set of challenges. As we have dealt with the ongoing pandemic, remote schooling, social distancing and more, parents may have found themselves wondering on more than one occasion if their child’s mental health may be suffering. So how do you know if your child is doing OK? What are some signs parents should be on the lookout for? And when should you seek help?

With all that has happened, and the abrupt changes that have occured in all of our lives, some level of grief or sadness is normal. Children are no longer in school as they once were, and are not able to visit with their friends in the same ways they have been accustomed to. In addition, some families have experienced severe illness, job loss, financial insecurity, and sadly, many have lost loved ones.

According to a December 2020 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, 42% of people in the country reported symptoms of anxiety or depression that month. This was a huge increase from the 11% they recorded in 2019.

And it isn’t just depression and anxiety with adults that is on the rise. The same is happening with children, too.

Signs Your Child Might Need Help

“Some of the warning signs to look out for include increased irritability or anger, loss of enjoyment in activities that were previously enjoyed, fluctuations in appetite and sleep, and thoughts of engaging in self harm or suicide,” says Walter Wilson, board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist with HealthPoint Family Care. “While these signs or symptoms do not represent an exhaustive list, if a child is displaying any of these warning signs, it should warrant further investigation into their mental health.”

With all of the changes that have occurred over the past year, it might be difficult for parents to know what is a normal response to all that is happening, or if it is something that actually needs to be addressed. And that feeling of uncertainty may be exacerbated by other factors such as fluctuating hormones in tweens and teens.

When to Seek Help

If parents are concerned about the mental health of their child for any reason, Wilson advises parents to seek help.

“Honestly, regardless of the circumstantial context, if a child is struggling, seek help from a mental health professional,” Wilson says. “That could be in the form of a counselor, therapist or psychiatrist. Whether it’s based on an immediate or recent circumstance, or something that the child may have been struggling with for a longer period of time, both scenarios warrant evaluation by a mental health professional to ensure the child receives the mental healthcare treatment he or she needs. This approach takes the guesswork out of the situation for parents.”

The bottom line is, if you are noticing warning signs and wondering if your child is doing OK, it’s best to err on the side of caution and have them evaluated.

This will also help your child to understand the importance of taking care of not only their physical health, but also their mental health — and hopefully remove any stigmas that may be attached to seeking professional help.

Parents, Take Care of Yourself, Too

It’s important that parents recognize how they are doing, as well. Children learn so much from observing how parents handle situations. If you notice you are struggling with depression or anxiety, don’t be afraid to talk about it, and seek help for yourself.

With all that we have experienced over the past year, there might be days when your child might be more sad, or blue, than normal — or even more anxious as they are about to do something they haven’t done in awhile. The important thing is to know the warning signs, and to recognize the duration and intensity. Being sad for a bit may be normal, but being sad for weeks is probably a sign that something more is going on.

Lastly, Wilson warns: “If there is concern that a child is thinking of, or is actively engaged in, harming themselves or others, then that child should be taken immediately to the emergency department for evaluation and treatment.”

As parents, we learn early on the importance of feeding our children healthy foods, making sure they are getting good sleep, practicing good hygiene, and brushing their teeth every morning and night. We are encouraged to support their physical health with no stigma attached, and the same should be true with mental health. If you feel your child is struggling, know you aren’t alone. This past year hasn’t been the easiest, and it’s OK and important to know when to get help.

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