Promoting Mental Health in Children

The United States  is facing a child mental health epidemic.  According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness,  20% of youth ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition, 50% of lifetime cases of mental illnesses begin by age 14, and average delay of intervention after onset of symptoms is roughly 10 years.  These facts clearly convey that the United States’ youth population is facing serious mental health issues, and we as a society are not responding effectively. This blog post  is focused on conveying what good and bad child mental health look like, how early childhood educators can promote improved mental health in children, and know and recognize the warning signs of mental health issues.

How bad is the child mental health crisis in this country? (Center for Disease Controls) (CDC Key Findings)

  • Boys are more likely to suffer from a mental health issue
  • White children are more likely than Hispanic children to suffer from a mental health issue
  • Access to mental health services for children vary by state
  • ADHD is the most prevalent current diagnosis among children 3-17 years of age
  • The number of children with a mental disorder increased with ages (with exception of autism spectrum disorders, anxiety, Tourette Syndroms, and cigarette dependence).

What is a mental health?

  • According to the CDC: ” a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

What are signs of suffering  child mental health? (taken directly from Elements Behavior Health)

  • Worries about everything – even minor things
  • Highly anxious in almost every situation
  • Fearful – of anything and everything
  • Acts as if he or she is constantly on guard, hyper alert, vigilant
  • Engages in rituals and/or compulsive, repetitive behavior
  • Acts uncomfortable around people
  • Has frequent upsetting memories of past events or nightmares
  • Resists or avoids doing normal activities
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and helplessness
  • Loses interest and pleasure in most things – as if he or she is just going through the motions, robotic-like
  • Frequent thoughts of suicide and/or death
  • Difficulty sleeping, sleeping too much, interrupted sleep
  • Loss of appetite, weight loss, or weight gain
  • Fatigue, loss of energy
  • Persistent feelings or sadness, crying spells
  • Agitation
  • Drop in grades
  • Inability to make decisions, follow-through, or concentrate
  • Minor things cause unwarranted feelings of guilt
  • Extreme mood swings without any provocation – one minute the individual is exultant, jubilant, and without warning, turns morose, weepy, or angry, confrontational
  • Irritability – not occasional, but most of the time
  • Hyper-energetic
  • Requires little sleep
  • Becomes easily angered
  • Disruptive to and with others
  • Euphoric, excited
  • Overconfident about abilities, talents, or looks
  • Speaks rapidly and is difficult to interrupt
  • Bipolar depression includes mood swings that range from low to high (manic) and back down again

What are indications of positive child mental health?

  • Responds to changes in routine without complete emotional melt-down
  • Get enough sleep
  • Wear clothes that weather-appropriate
  • Have unconditional love from family
  • Safe living environments
  • Parents/guardians give appropriate discipline and guidance
  • Given ample time to play with other children their age
  • Can practice self-control
  • Don’t have rapid mood swings

What is teacher’s role in promoting child mental health?

  • Avoid Sarcasm: young children don’t understand sarcasm, and it can hurt their feelings (they don’t know your kidding)
  • Discuss and teach what a good friendship look like
  • Communicate positively with parents/guardians
  • Display self-control as a teacher
  • Model positive mental health
  • Create an environment that is positive in nature
  • Acknowledge the connection between body and mind, and ensure children in your class are getting enough exercise during the day and eating nutritious food
  • Use discipline as an opportunity for instruction on emotional regulation
  • Notify supervisors of any concerning warning signs of hindered child mental health

*The next blog post will discuss how to begin targeted interventions after identifying troubling mental health indicators in a child.* 

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