The Mental Health Crisis and Our Children
America’s children and teens are facing a mental health crisis widely tied to the social impact of COVID-19.
In a 2020 survey by the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, 71% of parents said remote schooling, isolation, worry, and other pandemic-related changes had taken a toll on their child’s mental health. The Annie E. Casey Foundation found that children in 40+ states experienced more anxiety and depression during the first year of the pandemic than before.
Perhaps most troubling, though: These issues are persisting even as the pandemic comes under control. Suicide rates have spiked in preadolescents and children are experiencing depression and anxiety at unprecedented levels. These somber facts mark a new age in which parents, guardians, teachers, social workers, and other adults need to approach children’s mental health the way they approach larger health and hygiene needs: As a daily priority, worthy of regular upkeep and check-ins.
A few ways to keep tabs on – and maybe even strengthen – your children’s mental health:
Note what a child does and loves – and when it changes. Lapses in hygiene and disinterest in hobbies are some warning signs of depression and other mental health hurdles.
Educate yourself. Spotting warning signs in children starts with knowing them. Reputable resources like the Mayo Clinic’s “Know the signs” glossary can improve your knowledge on this front.
Talk about feelings – and validate theirs. Sharing your own feelings normalizes the habit, helping children do the same. “What do you think about that?” and “How does that make you feel?” are prompts that can help them to open up about their inner lives. With the exception of thoughts that could result in harmful behavior, be sure to validate your child’s feelings – even if you don’t understand or agree with them.
Encourage sleep, water, and healthy eating. It sounds like common sense, but many young people aren’t sleeping enough, drinking enough water, or eating beneficial foods. Be proactive about screen time; limit junk food and sugary drinks and make water the default beverage.
Nurture your own mental health. Put down your phone. Get outside. Exercise. Prioritize relationships and giving. Get the rest and relaxation you need. These choices show children what healthy behavior looks like and ensures you’re at your best as you support your child.
If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a free resource that can be accessed at any time. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org. Learn more here: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/988