The mental health of our children needs support. What can we do about it?

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Mental health is health, period. No wonder, then, that the latest advice from the US Surgeon General is making headlines.

Last week, Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy released a advisory underlining an urgent need to reach out to the youth of the nation mental health crisis. Honestly, the only one surprise it is because it took so long for the crisis to be recognized at the national level.

COVID, and all that comes with it, has rocked the world. While we can’t go back in time and change things, we can understand what impacts children’s mental health and how we, as parents, can support their well-being.

What are ACEs and what role do they play in our children’s mental health?

Have you ever heard of the acronym ACE? It means adverse childhood experiences, which is a term coined by pediatric health specialists. And yes, the pandemic counts as one of them.

Pediatrician Nadine burke harris recount American scientist: “Adverse experiences activate the brain’s fight-or-flight system, which is a normal response to immediate danger.” And yet, the pandemic has lasted for almost two years. So what does this impact look like? “Repeated exposure to these situations prolongs their stress response and creates damage,” adds Harris.

Even before COVID, our child needed a lot more support for his mental health than he was receiving. In fact, according to the Department of Health and Social Services, “Mental health issues are the number one cause of disability and poor outcomes in the lives of young people. Up to 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 in the United States have a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder.

Yes, children are resilient. But, at the end of the day, they’re still human. As much as COVID has impacted adults and their mental health, so have children. But the difference between adults and kiddos? We are grown up. Of course, we haven’t got it all figured out, but we have decades of experience dealing with loss and understanding the importance of grieving. Many children have lost a grandparent, parent or guardian of some sort in the past 20 months. Not to mention their sense of normalcy, whether it is not seeing their friends at school or missing out on activities that promote their social and emotional development.

How can we support our children?

The Surgeon General’s opinion on Protect the mental health of young people gives us some starting points.

Recognize that mental health is an important part of overall health

Are you tired of hearing us say this? If they fell and broke a bone, you wouldn’t tell them to get over it and move on. Apply the same logic and take care of their less visible pain.

Empower children to recognize, deal with and learn difficult emotions

It breaks the hearts of all parents to see their child in pain. While it is difficult to watch them go through this, it is just as important to encourage them to recognize that sometimes things are going to seem impossible. By acknowledging these feelings, you support their ability to deal with them and learn from them.

Recognize the economic and social barriers that contribute to poor mental health

It is uncomfortable, but it is also a fact that people who have the privilege of economic security have more time and resources to devote to the mental health of their children. This concept is best illustrated by Maslow’s hierarchy needs, the most urgent category of need being physiological – thus basically shelter and sustenance.

If a family is food insecure, for example, their child’s mental health may not be as serious an issue as some of the other challenges they face.

Instead of telling someone to toughen up, work harder, or just get over it, make room for people who face different obstacles than you do. Because at the end of the day, we are all trying to navigate through whatever life throws at us and support our children as they do the same.

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