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  • What is Mental Health?

    Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

    Your Child's Mental Health: Tips for Parents and Caregivers

    As a parent or caregiver, you want the best for your children or other dependents.  You may be concerned or have questions about certain behaviors they exhibit and how to ensure they get help.  What to look for: It is important to be aware of warning signs that your child may be struggling.  You can play a critical role in knowing when your child may need help.  Consult with a school counselor, school nurse, mental health provider or another health care professional if your child show's one or more of the following behaviors:

    • Feeling sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks
    • Experiencing sudden overwhelming fear for no reason
    • Getting in many fights or wanting to hurt others
    • Having intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities
    • Experiecing extreme difficulty controlling behavior, putting himself or herself in physical danger or causing problems in school
    • Using drugs or alcohol repeatedly
    • Having severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
    • Showing drastic changes in behavior or personality

    Because children often can't understand difficult situations on their own, you should pay particular attention if they experience:

    • Loss of a loved one
    • Divorce or separation of their parents
    • Any major transition (new home, new school, etc.)
    • Traumatic life experiences
    • Teasing or bullying
    • Difficulties in school or with classmates

    How to talk about mental health: Do you need help starting a conversation with your child about mental health?  Try leading with these questions.  Make sure you actively listen to your child's response:

    • Can you tell me more about what is happening?  Can you tell me how you are feeling?
    • Have you had feelings like this in the past?
    • Sometimes you need to talk to an adult about your feelings.  I'm here to listen.  How can I help you feel better?
    • Do you feel like you want to talk to someone else about your problem?   

    When talking about mental health problems with your child, you should:

    • Communicate in a straightforward manner
    • Speak at a level that is appropriate to a child or adolescent's age and development level
    • Discuss the topic when your child feels safe and comfortable
    • Listen openly, and let your child tell you about their feelings and worries

    What to do: If you are concerned about your child's behaviors, it is important to get appropriate care.  You should talk to your child's doctor, school nurse, or another health care provider, and seek further information about the behaviors or symptoms that worry you.  

    Warning signs that a child is dealing with a mental health condition are described below:

    Mood Swings- Parents should look for feelings of withdrawal or sadness that last for at least two weeks or more.  Severe mood swings that are causing problems in relationships at home and in school should also be taken as a warning sign.

    Behavioral Changes- These changes include a drastic change in their behavior or personality, including those reflecting a lack of self-control.  Frequent fights, use of weapons, and expressing a desire to want to harm others are also warning signs.

    Intense Feelings- Intense feelings of overwhelming fear that have no apparent reason are immediate warning signs.  Sometimes these feelings can also be accompanied by a racing heart or fast breathing.  Worries or fears that intensify enough to interfere with the child's day-to-day activities should be immediately recognized as a warning sign.

    Difficulty Concentrating- This is usually observed at school.  Signs that indicate that the child is having trouble focusing or in sitting still and is leading to a poor performance in school are to be taken as warning signs of a potential mental illness. 

    Physical Symptoms- Unlike adults, children who have mental health disorders are likely to develop severe headaches and/or stomachaches, rather than displaying anxiety or sadness.  Unexplained weight loss or a sudden loss of appetite, frequent vomiting, or even the use of laxatives, could be indicative of an eating disorder.  

    Physical Harm- In some cases, a mental health condition can cause a child to be prone to self-harm or bodily injury.  This refers to an act of deliberately harming their own body, including burning or cutting themselves.  Children who have a mental health illness may demonstrate these signs.  

    Drug or Substance Abuse- Some children may turn towards drug use or alcohol abuse to cope with their feelings.  

    What to do if you suspect that your child may be displaying signs of needing Mental Health Supports?

    What Do I do?

    What Do I Say?

    Talk with your family doctor or your child's pediatrician

    Discuss your child's behavioral changes and what worries you about their changed personality

    Talk with your child's teacher, loved ones, or any other caregivers Ask if they have also noticed any changes in your child's behavior recently
    Talk with your child

    Ask if he or she is experiencing any changes in his or her physical body or emotions

    Talk with your child Ask if anything has happened recently in his or her life that has impacted his or her feelings
    Talk with your child Ask if he or she would be willing to speak with a counselor about his or her feelings

    Common warning signs that indicate a mental health illness:

    • The child is experiencing multiple difficulties at school.
    • The child is bullying or hitting other children.
    • The child attempts to injure/harm himself/herself.
    • The child starts avoiding family and friends.
    • The child starts to experience frequent and prolonged irritability or mood.
    • The child lacks the motivation to do anything he or she previously enjoyed.
    • The child is having difficulty sleeping.
    • The child is having too many nightmares.
    • The child suddenly has many physical complaints, namely in the abdominal area.
    • The child starts to neglect his or her appearance.
    • The child becomes obsessed with his or her weight or appearance.
    • The child starts to ear significantly less or more than usual.