Children’s Mental Health Acceptance week is in May and you may have noticed a change in wording this year. The National Federation of Families has changed Awareness to Acceptance. According to the National Federation of Families, awareness means we know it exists but acceptance means we make a personal connection and take steps to learn more. This shift in thought hopes to reduce the stigma around mental health and make it less embarrassing for children to talk about. The goal is that mental health discussions are as important as other health issues, and that we add a more empathetic approach towards children who struggle with mental health issues.
According to the Children’s Safety Network and the CDC, approximately one fourth of adolescents aged 12–17 received mental health services in 2020. It has been widely reported that children’s mental health has been worrisome for professionals since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
In December of 2021, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis. In the advisory, the U.S. Surgeon General stated that before the COVID-19 pandemic, up to 1 in 5 children, ages 3 to 17, in the US were having mental, emotional, developmental or behavioral disorders before the pandemic.
How do Mental Health Challenges Affect Youth?
According to Youth.gov., a major place where mental health challenges are displayed are in schools. Some children with mental health disorders struggle in school, despite having the desire to be successful. Their behaviors, emotions and thoughts can get in the way, making school a challenge. This can lead to children being disciplined for their behavior when their actions may be instead related to mental health.
Elementary and Middle School aged children may show their mental health challenges by being unhappy in school or with frequent absences or suspensions. In High School, children are more likely to fail or drop out if they have mental health disorders. They may also engage in risky behavior, abuse alcohol or drugs, or have suicide attempts.
The Surgeon General’s Advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health has given the following recommendations to improve youth mental health across 11 sectors, including young people and their families, educators and schools, and media and technology companies.
- Recognize that mental health is an essential part of overall health.
- Empower youth and their families to recognize, manage, and learn from difficult emotions.
- Ensure that every child has access to high-quality, affordable, and culturally competent mental health care.
- Support the mental health of children and youth in educational, community, and childcare settings. And expand and support the early childhood and education workforce.
- Address the economic and social barriers that contribute to poor mental health for young people, families, and caregivers.
- Increase timely data collection and research to identify and respond to youth mental health needs more rapidly. This includes more research on the relationship between technology and youth mental health, and technology companies should be more transparent with data and algorithmic processes to enable this research.
What can Families do at Home?
The Children’s Safety Network suggest that parents and caregivers talk with children about mental health and suicide at an early age, and if a child presents with mental health challenges that is worrisome to parents, they should talk to a pediatrician and seek professional help. Parents and caregivers should get access to mental health support at the earliest signs of mental health issues or trauma.
As parents and caregivers, we can also help reduce the stigma around mental health challenges and disorders by making sure children feel comfortable talking about them.
Promoting Mental Health
Mental Health Promotion, according to Youth.gov, “attempts to encourage and increase protective factors and healthy behaviors that can help prevent the onset of a diagnosable mental disorder and reduce risk factors that can lead to the development of a mental disorder. It also involves creating living conditions and environments that support mental health and allow people to adopt and maintain healthy lifestyles.”
Some examples from Youth.gov of mental health promotion are:
- Early childhood interventions (e.g., home visits for pregnant women, pre-school psychosocial activities);
- Providing support for children (e.g., skills building programs, child and youth development programs);
- Programs targeted at vulnerable groups, including minorities, indigenous people, migrants, and people affected by conflicts and disasters (e.g., psychosocial interventions after disasters);
- Incorporating mental health promotional activities in schools
For More Information and Reading on Youth Mental Health Acceptance:
HealthyChildren.org – Helping Children Handle Stress:
HealthyChildren.org – How to Talk about Mental Health with your Child and their Pediatrician:
Youth.gov – Mental Health Risk and Protective Factors for Youth:
Youth.gov – How Mental Health Disorders Affect Youth:
U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Mental Health Crisis: