Mental Health Awareness Month: The State of Mental Health in Today’s Children and Teens – PART-III

May 18th

2023

Student, Depression, social anxiety in school and home

All parents dream of a bright future for their children, a future pursuing health and happiness. A huge factor in the outcome of our hopes and dreams rides on our child’s social and emotional development. What do current statistics tell us about the mental health of today’s young people? And what role does co-parenting play? In the latest edition of our month-long series for Mental Health Awareness Month, we’ll talk about the current state of children’s mental health and explore what parents and co-parents can do to foster mental wellness today and in the future.

The Gist

Children can experience problems with their mental health at any age. These issues often begin in early childhood.

Commonly diagnosed mental disorders in young people include ADHD, depression, and anxiety.

Traumatic experiences, including parental separation and divorce, can have a negative impact on children’s mental health.

Strategies to support your child’s mental health include talking about feelings and practicing ways to manage them, creating a safe space to express positive and negative emotions, and intervening quickly if your child needs additional support.


CHILDREN IN CRISIS?

Mental Health Awareness Month encourages us to learn more about the state of mental health in America. We’ve shared information on this in Mental Health Awareness MonthSeries, Part I: Co-Parent Mental Health.

According to the 2023 State of Mental Health in America report (access the entire report) , 60 % of youth with a major depressive episode do not receive mental health treatment, and 1 in 10 (1.2 million) youth with private insurance do not have coverage for mental or emotional difficulties.

Between 2016-2019, the CDC notes that ADHD, anxiety problems, and depression are the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in young children aged 3-17 years, and these conditions commonly occur together. In 2016, 73.8% of children with depression also had anxiety, and 47.2% also had behavior problems; meanwhile, 36.6% of children with behavior problems also had anxiety and 20.3% had depression. Rates of anxiety and depression have increased over time. (Read More..)

The data also shows that many disorders begin in early childhood; 1 in 6 U.S. children aged 2-8 years old had a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder. As children age, the prevalence of ADHD, anxiety, and depression increase, while behavior problems seem to be most common between 6-11 years old. In the teen years, struggles with mental health may lead to risk-taking activities such as substance and suicide.

Depressed, sitting alone - children mental health

Many factors other than age influence the impact of mental health issues on youth. These can include in-born characteristics such as genetics (as many disorders can be inherited), environmental characteristics, and situational characteristics. For example, where a child grows up can be significant not only in regard to the dynamics within the physical home but also in regard to location (neighborhood, community, town, region, country). Furthermore, specific circumstances such as poverty, racial discrimination, and traumatic experiences (either acute or chronic) can be harmful as well. Finally, access to adequate mental health care can shape the trajectory of a child’s life when problems do arise. There is a notable shortage of mental health providers (relative to need) across the country, but even more so in remote and/or poorer communities.


The Covid Co-Factor, Children’s Edition:

The global pandemic changed the lives of people across the globe, not only in the physical sense but also in regard to mental health. We’ve mentioned previously that we are just beginning to understand the gravity of this impact on adults, and the same holds true for children; however, the National Alliance on Mental Illness has gathered some info from 2020 that already pinpoints some side effects. Their data shows that 1 in 5 young people reported that the pandemic had a negative impact on their mental health that year, and emergency rooms saw a 30% increase in mental health-related visits. Our lifestyles continue to evolve along with the virus and our children’s emotional wellbeing is along for the ride.

Children of Co-Parents:

As mentioned above, a strong correlation exists between traumatic experiences in childhood and mental health issues across the lifespan. In many ways, parental separation or divorce can be classified as a traumatic experience, especially if high levels of conflict persist during and after the transition. In an article summarizing the research on the effects of divorce on children, Verywellfamily.com states that they are more likely to suffer consequences to their mental health and experience depression and anxiety at higher rates than their peers. However, it’s important to note that many other factors can play a mitigating role and protect or even improve mental health in these children. If separating leads to a more favorable dynamic between parenting partners, decreasing the levels of fighting, then kids may fare better than they did beforehand. Peaceful, cooperative co-parenting, in which partners model appropriate, healthy behavior and maintain a cordial relationship, can also bolster their children’s resilience. For more info on this, check out this study

Top of Mind for Today’s Parents: Our Children’s Mental Health

If this information has you concerned for your child, you’re not alone. According to the CT MIrror, a recent poll finds that mental health is the top concern amongst parents; 40% of people stated that they were “extremely” or “very” worried about their child suffering from anxiety or depression, and another 39% reported themselves as feeling “somewhat worried.” As researchers learn more about it and the media publicizes stories of suicide, violence, and other related issues, our interest in the topic continues to grow. Mental health is a complex, multi-faceted concept with no easy explanations or solution, but a few things we can state with certainty: (a) children suffer with their mental health, too; (b) these struggles impact their future success, and (c ) prevention is key to building their resilience. Let’s tackle this important issue together.


THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF BETTER MENTAL HEALTH:

Our brains are at their most malleable when we are young; it’s easier to build neural pathways toward optimal functioning before they become ingrained in us. Kids also look to their caregivers more for guidance in the earlier years; our influence on them is stronger at that time, as opposed to in later adolescence when they may look to their peers for that information.
Take advantage of your power now!
Some ways to set the stage for mental wellness for children include:

  • Take care of ourselves. Our relationship with our children is a two-way street; we try our best to tune in to them and their needs, but at the same time they can sense our emotional state even when we don’t directly talk about it. One of the best things you can do for your child is nurture your own well-being so that you present your best self to your child. This doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect, or that you can’t show them that you’re struggling; however, it does mean that you show them how you can take care of your body and mind as you weather the ups and downs of life. You’ll also be able to handle your child’s emotions better if you’ve worked on regulating your own.
  • Nurture a healthy, respectful relationship with your child. Your relationship is your best tool for supporting your child’s development and wellbeing. Prioritize bonding and quality time with your child doing things that you both enjoy. This requires you to be present and respectful toward them and their feelings in both good and challenging times.
  • Bring emotions vocabulary into the everyday. Teach this in the same way that you do other essential vocabulary; talk about it often, read books on the topic, play games involving feelings (“Show me a HAPPY face,” “Show me a MAD face,” “How would you feel if...,”) etc. , do feelings check-ins, and label feelings as they occur.
  • Incorporate self- regulation skills practice into your routine. Engage in calming exercises (yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, guided visualization, etc.) and practice mindfulness and gratitude. Model and discuss ways to handle big feelings during neutral time (rather than in the middle of a tantrum, for example). Talk to your children about strategies that you use to manage your emotions and model them.

COACHING CHILDREN IN RESILIENCE

Kids will struggle with their feelings and how to manage them no matter what we do. This may be especially true as they navigate the family’s transition to co-parenting. Parental separation or divorce can elicit complex emotions in children, both at first (when it occurs) and over time (as you wade through challenges like custody agreements, moving between households, loyalty conflicts, ongoing arguing between parents, etc.) The preventative strategies above aren't intended to stop our children from facing mental health challenges but rather to create an environment in which they feel safe to talk about it and guidance from us. When we can get them to trust us enough to share what they’re experiencing and be open to our support, then we can actually build their skills to make it through difficult times.
Here are some suggestions for ways to coach your child through these moments:

  • Accept and validate all feelings. You want to teach your child appropriate versus inappropriate behavior; however, you don't want to punish or deny their feelings. Doing so can be harmful to their growth in many ways; it doesn't help them to understand what’s happening, it may lead them to repress their emotions, and it won't create trust in your relationship. Whether you find them valid or justified is irrelevant. Show empathy by echoing and validating the feelings they're sharing with you. Ex or more explanation needed here?
  • Modulate your own feelings and behavior. It’s hard to see our kids upset, and often even harder if their upset results in challenging behavior. But if we allow their emotions to dictate our own, or take them personally, we won’t be effective in helping them. Take a moment to calm yourself if you need to, and then step in calmly and gently.
  • Resist the urge to “fix” everything. We parents sometimes feel the urge to intervene and fix things or “happy up” our children. We want the best for them, and it's hard to watch them struggle. But in order for them to build confidence and get comfortable with being uncomfortable, we need to both sit with them in their negative emotions and refrain from resolving issues for them. There will be times, especially when they're little, when you have to take charge and keep them safe. But as early and often as you can, engage them in brainstorming ways to solve problems. Ask if your child wants help before jumping in, and talk through situations together. More?
  • Praise them for their social-emotional skills. We often recognize and compliment kids for their overt successes- for example, playing a great game, doing well on a test, getting the lead in the school play. But to reinforce important life skills like self-regulation, kindness, compromise, etc. , we need to acknowledge those as well. For example, if you know your child felt shy to perform in a concert but did it anyway, you could say, “Wow I know you don't like singing in front of and were nervous, but you did it anyway! How brave of you!” Or, if your perfectionist child received a low grade for a project and decides to re-do it, reinforce the perseverance with “I know how hard that must have been for you, and you didn't get down on yourself but kept a positive attitude and worked even harder!”

Intervene promptly and calmly:

These strategies alone won’t always be enough. Signs that your child is struggling with his/her mental health and may require further support include:

  • Changes in eating/sleeping patterns
  • Regression to earlier behaviors, loss of skills
  • Physical complaints without a known physical cause (stomachaches, headaches, etc.)
  • Frequent questioning/looking for frequent reassurance about things
  • Negative talk - about self, others, etc.
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Defiance
  • Emotional reactions that do not seem aligned with the situation
  • School refusal
  • Withdrawal; not talking or sharing, preferring to be alone
  • Lack of interest in activities that he/she used to enjoy
  • Self-soothing and/or self-stimulatory behaviors (thumb-sucking, nail-biting, etc.)
  • Aggressive behavior toward self or others
  • Sexualized behavior

This list is not exhaustive, nor is it conclusive; some kids may show their stress differently, or perhaps don’t seem to show ANY signs. Many of the indicators above may also be symptoms of something other than a mental health disorder. Consider your child’s age, temperament, developmental level, learning style, etc. and always trust your gut.

Sad children with their parents having a conflict

If you’re feeling that what you’re doing isn’t enough to help your child, this doesn’t mean that you, your parenting partner, or your child have failed! In this case, process whatever feelings you have about it with trusted adults (loved ones, therapist, etc.). It will be important for your child to perceive from you that many kids experience difficulty with their mental health, that it’s not your child’s fault, and that it’s very treatable. Then, work together with your parenting partner. Consult with your child’s pediatrician and/or school and consider enlisting professional support. As you go through these steps to treatment, be sure to tend to your own needs; this may mean asking for help from your friends or family, going to therapy yourself, or joining a support group.


PROTECTING THE FUTURE OF MENTAL HEALTH:

The state of mental health in children seems to be increasingly present in the forefront of our minds, and for good reason! We share this information with you not to paint a dreary picture but to acknowledge the opportunity we have as parents to be proactive. Our efforts to educate and coach kids today can protect the emotional well-being of future generations.


 

Still Struggling? Koh-Parenting Can Help!

Check out our learning guides that can help you on your co-parenting journey.

Koh-Parenting Learning Guides
 

By Koh-Parenting Services LLC


3 Comments

  1. Definitely, what a magnificent blog and informative posts, I will bookmark your website.All the Best!

  2. Sana Paul says:

    Here there its a test

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