Fearing blame, shame and misunderstanding, it can be hard for parents to educate themselves on youth mental health issues and know when to seek help. But if we cannot identify potential problems, we will never be able to help our kids.
Mental health describes an individual’s state of emotional, psychological and social well being. Social, emotional, and cognitive development all factor into healthy brain development, making mental health care so critical in childhood.
Like physical health, children’s mental health must to be tended to in order to build up immunity and resilience. And like physical health, mental health is influenced by heredity and environment.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five youth suffer from a diagnosable mental health condition — anxiety, depression and ADHD are among the most common. And even though half of all lifetime cases start by the age 14, due to stigma and our culture of silence, less than 20% of these children get help.
In today’s world, it is crucial to validate our children’s mental health, just like we remind them to wash their hands to help prevent illness. By caring for their mental health, we help our children develop resilience and grow into their potential, and help reduce the risk of mental health issues going unchecked.
For parents, this can mean simply talking with your kids and letting their questions guide the conversation. For others in the community, this might mean watching for behavioral or social changes, then asking a child if they are okay.
And though emotions and behaviors may signal a child is struggling, unfortunately, the reason is not always apparent. Regardless, if you believe a child is having a hard time, educate yourself first and then start asking questions.
One place to start is ymhproject.org for free guides and resources. No Letting Go, our movie on one family’s struggle with their child’s mental illness, is a great way to start a conversation within your community.
Mental health conditions are more common than heart disease, lung disease and cancer combined, yet the subject is taboo unless there is a crisis. Our children and the headlines are begging for this to change. The change can start with conversation. Whether at home, at school or in the community, it is time to start talking to one another and support the mental health of today’s youth.
Wendy Ward is the co-founder and executive director of the Youth Mental Health Project, which empowers families and communities with tools and resources on facilitating discussions on youth mental health awareness. She can be reached at [email protected]