Mental health is as important—if not more so—than physical health!
While it was once a subject rarely discussed and often treated as shameful, in recent years, it has thankfully become far more normalized and acceptable, even encouraged. People are getting to psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and counselors to get the help they need dealing with their mental health issues—from depression to anxiety to PTSD to stress to ADHD, and the list goes on.
But one area far less explored or talked about is mental health conditions in children.
As parents, we want to believe our children are happy and healthy, and it can be difficult to recognize—much less accept—that they are struggling with mental health issues. However, it’s imperative that we pay greater attention to and shine the spotlight on mental health conditions in children so we can take steps to address the problem before it grows serious.
According to the CDC , the three most common mental health conditions in children are:
ADHD, or attention hyperactivity deficiency disorder. Children with ADHD tend to fidget and squirm a lot, have difficulty paying attention, make struggle with resisting temptation (impulse control), may not be able to take turns or get along well with others, and often take unnecessary risks and make mistakes that may appear “careless”. It’s estimated that up to 6 million children, or 9.8% of the U.S. child population, are diagnosed with ADHD.
Anxiety. The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry. They may also have physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat.”  It’s estimated that up to 5.8 million, or 9.4% of the U.S. child population, suffers from anxiety.
Behavior problems. Behavioral disorders like Attention Deficiency Disorder, Conduct Disorder, and Opposition Defiant Disorder are believed to affect up to 5.5 million children, or 8.9% of the U.S. child population. Symptoms may include impulsivity, drug use, defiant behavior, criminal activity, inattention, and hyperactivity.
It’s already worrying enough to hear that so many children are affected by these conditions, but what’s worse is that many of these issues are accompanied by other. For example, anxiety is often accompanied by depression, and ADHD and behavior problems can both be a risk factor increasing depression and anxiety risk.
What’s clear is that our children’s mental health is at risk—so it falls to us, as parents and concerned adults, to do everything in our power to provide the help they need.
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Whether your child is currently struggling with or has struggled with mental health issues in the past, it’s important that you get proactive and do everything you can to help them. Even children with no history of mental health conditions could benefit from parents who are taking steps to protect their psychological wellbeing!
Here are a few things you can do to help your child:
Recognize the signs. Watch for the signs of mental health problems. Anxiety, depression, ADHD, and behavior disorders all have very noticeable symptoms that can be your first clue that something is wrong. Don’t just write it off as “a bad day” or “a bad mood”, but be aware that small acts and behaviors can indicate greater problems beneath the surface.
Study up. The more you learn about the problems your child is having, the more you’ll be able to identify the source of your concerns and take active steps to help them. It’s worth investing a few hours every week into researching the most common conditions, learning the symptoms, and collecting resources that can help you and your child.
Get professional help if needed. If your child should present symptoms of a mental health disorder, consider visiting a therapist or counselor. If the condition worsens, you may need to visit a psychologist or psychiatrist for a proper diagnosis and, possibly, medication to address the issue. Don’t try to handle this on your own, but get a medical professional involved to give you the help you need!
Build a support system. You’re not in this alone. You have friends, family, your spouse, and loved ones who can help you through this. Your child may have siblings who can get involved, too. The stronger your support system, the easier it will be to help your child as needed.
Make sure they know you love them. Make it clear to the child that they are not the problem, but this is merely some condition or brain dysfunction that is at fault. Being diagnosed with and treated for a mental disorder can be scary for adults and terrifying for children. What will help them the most is knowing that you love them through it all.
Just as you take your physical health seriously, it’s important to take your mental health—and that of your kids—seriously, too. Now that you’re aware of the high prevalence of disorders among children (up to 10%!), you can be on the lookout for any sign of more serious problems, and you’ll be armed with the knowledge to get proactive and help your child.
Early treatment and management can make a world of difference!
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