Mental Health Crisis in America: How to Help Your Kids Manage Feelings of Despair
We are facing a mental health crisis. An alarming number of children and teens are struggling with feelings of hopelessness and depression. Many are also having thoughts of suicide. During the height of the pandemic in 2020, the number of children who went to the Emergency Department for mental health issues increased by 24 percent for children ages 5 to 11 and 31 percent for kids ages 12 to 17.
In our backyard, children are more likely to face anxiety or depression. In fact, in 2019, more kids died by suicide than at any point in US history. Black youth were among the most impacted by suicide in 2019. Hispanic youth are presenting with mental illness at higher rates than have ever been seen before.
The challenge we’re facing today is that many kids remain undiagnosed and are left untreated for many years. Only around 20 percent of the youth experiencing mental illness receive the help they need to overcome it. That’s where parents and caregivers come in. You can do things to help identify and reduce anxiety and depression in your kids. You just need to know the signs.
- Talk to your child. Ask how they are doing. Ask if they are sad or overwhelmed with stress or worry. Don’t be afraid to talk about suicidal thoughts. Provide them with a safe place for sharing their feelings and struggles. Don’t judge. Just listen and let them talk about whatever they’re willing to share. We encourage parents and caregivers to have daily check-ins. Rather than asking about how school was, ask them about specifics related to their day. For example, ask who they ate lunch with.
- Pay attention to changes in their attitude and behavior. If they become angry and irritable or have other atypical changes, something may be happening that needs to be addressed. If your child is normally a straight-A student but is now struggling in school or is isolating, take their behavioral changes as a red flag that shouldn’t be ignored.
- Pay attention to changes in appetite. If your child starts eating more or significantly less than normal, they may struggle with stress, anxiety, or depression.
- Recognize signs that your child may be going into isolation. If you notice your child pulling back or disengaging from their friends or peers, talk with them about what may be causing this change in their behavior.
- Talk with your child’s pediatric provider about any behavioral changes. Primary care providers see 70 percent of mental health visits in the US and are prepared to provide recommendations to help you and your child.
- Get support. Parents and caregivers cannot do everything. It is essential that they feel supported. We help provide support and solutions to keep your child safe and healthy. Let us know how we can help you. We have access to resources that can help lighten the burden you may be feeling.
- Be an ear for your kids’ friends. Don’t forget to check in with your child’s friends and ask how they are doing. Some kids aren’t comfortable talking with their parents about things that may bother them. Keep a friendly and approachable vibe; they may feel safe coming to you if they struggle with something.
- Get outside with your kids. Go for a hike, walk the dog, or play catch. Physical exercise is beneficial for releasing tension and increasing feelings of happiness. Neutral ground is a wonderful place to check in with your kid and see how things are going.
Another new change coming down the pike is the formal approval of mental health days. In light of our kids’ crisis, mental health days provide respite from being at school. They are now approved in a dozen states in the US. And while it is not yet an approved excuse for missing school in North Carolina, it is gaining momentum. Allowing kids to take time to reset mentally is critical to helping those who are struggling with psychological issues that impact their ability to show up at school as the best version of themselves.
Your child’s mental health is just as important as their physical health. Just as you would encourage them to get outside to play, encourage them to do things to help unburden them. We’re here for you whenever you need us. If you feel your child may be struggling, please do not hesitate to contact our office for an appointment.