Three children’s medical groups have declared the mental health of kids and teens to be a national emergency, citing the pandemic and social media as chief contributing factors to the current crisis. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and Children’s Hospital Association are encouraging parents to get help for their struggling kids.
In addition to the stressors of the pandemic and social media, a number of other possible stressors could be contributing to mental health struggles for kids of all ages. For example, tension and conflict at home can be a major source of stress, along with big life changes like moving, divorce, a parent remarrying, or even a new sibling. Even before the pandemic forced major school-related changes and adjustments, school has historically been a source of stress for some kids. Tests, grades, making friends, and navigating social conflicts can be significant stressors in some cases.
In all, kids today are facing immense challenges. It’s important for parents and caretakers of kids and teens to be aware of the signs of poor mental health in young people as well as important practices for promoting mental health.
Know the signs
Mental health issues can look different in kids than it might in adults. For example, kids with anxiety and depression might present as more irritable or angry than sad or tearful. Kids and teens may have a harder time understanding their own experience enough to communicate it with others. They may not talk about their struggles or ask for help. For these reasons, it might not always be obvious when your child is struggling.
Here are some possible signs of mental health issues in kids and teens:
- Changes in sleep or appetite
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Social withdrawal
- Frequent complaints of headaches or stomach aches
- Argumentative and irritable mood
- Neglecting responsibilities
Promote healthy coping skills
Teaching your kids healthy coping skills helps them to become more resilient and mentally healthy. Parents can also help their kids learn how to cope with emotional distress by modeling healthy coping.
Here are some fundamental coping skills for kids to learn:
- Sleep hygiene: Adequate sleep is vital for kids’ physical and mental health. Parents can help kids develop healthy sleep habits by implementing a bedtime routine and creating an optimal sleep environment.
- Movement: Physical activity is an important component of healthy stress management for people of all ages. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 60 minutes a day of activity for children ages 6 to 17.
- Outdoor activities: Getting outside can help to reduce stress and promote a sense of calm and wellbeing.
- Make room for fun and downtime: Rest and recreation are important components of mental health for both kids and adults.
- Journaling: Expressive writing can help kids learn to process their experiences and emotions in a healthy way.
- Mindfulness skills: Deep breathing, present-moment awareness, and learning to be less emotionally reactive are a few mindfulness skills that promote mental health.
If your child is struggling, remember that help is available. Mental health practitioners are trained and experienced to offer support and suggestions for helping your child to thrive.