“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.” – Fred Rogers
Childhood mental health can be confusing and difficult to recognize. For example, when my two-year-old firmly believes that there are monsters under her bed, I do not
automatically assume that she is having visual or auditory hallucinations. When your pre-teen son tells you he is sad one minute and is completely transformed into joy by the appearance of a chocolate milkshake, we do not immediately expect a diagnosis of Major Depressive Episode. This does not mean that our kids don’t suffer from mental illness or mood disorders, it does mean that mental health and illness may look different in children than it does in adults. According to the CDC, “Being mentally healthy during childhood means reaching developmental and emotional milestones and learning healthy social skills and how to cope when there are problems. Mentally healthy children have a positive quality of life and can function well at home, in school, and in their communities.” However, mental health is not simply the absence of a mental disorder. Mentally healthy children can differ in how they are doing at any given time in their environments, and respond each according to their gifts and challenges. According to the CDC, “Mental disorders among children are described as serious changes in the way children typically learn, behave or handle their emotions, which cause distress and problems throughout the day.” When children display changes in their behaviors and/or coping strategies, that are causing disruptions in their ability to function in home, at school, or out in the community, it may be time to contact your child’s doctor, or a mental health professional to get help sorting out the struggles.
In teens, depressive symptoms may look like emotional and/or behavioral changes. Emotional changes may include: feelings of sadness with no apparent reason, feelings of frustration over seemingly small issues, loss of interest in previously desired activities, or feelings of worthlessness or guilt. Teens may have trouble thinking, concentrating, or remembering things, or they may report feelings of extreme worthlessness, or guilt with low self-esteem. Behavioral changes may include: changes in sleep – too much or too little, social isolation, angry outbursts, drug and alcohol use, or disruptive or risky behaviors.
Mental health is not something that can be gained by willpower or overcoming a weakness. It can be difficult to tell the difference between ups and downs that are just part childhood/adolescence and mental illness. Talk to your child and teen. Try to determine if they seem capable of managing challenging feelings, or if they are overwhelmed by life. If you need guidance, look to the medical professionals in your life, and consider asking about ongoing sessions with a Social Worker at In2Great. Our social workers and mental health professionals have so many fun and innovative ways to engage your child, and to provide you with suggestions to help your family navigate the difficult times in life.
If you or someone you know is thinking about harming yourself/themselves or attempting suicide, tell someone who can help right away:
Call 911 for emergency services.
Go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
Call or text 988 to connect with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. The Lifeline provides 24-hour, confidential support to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Support is also available via live chat.
– Info from NIMH