Know the warning signs of declining mental health – Sunbury Daily Item

Know the warning signs of declining mental health – Sunbury Daily Item

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‘What can you possibly be stressed about?” is a phrase many children have heard from their own parents. While the stressors of children may not be the same as their parents or caregiver, they are certainly valid. More importantly: they should not be ignored.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month — and the focus is often on eliminating the stigma associated with mental illness and awareness, but not enough on the mental health of infants, children and adolescents. This past year has been a struggle for all people, exacerbating mental health issues secondary to social isolation and uncertainty. Children have suffered immensely after separation from their friends, educators and community while spending most of their time at home or in a virtual learning environment watching their parents try to thrive in the home.

Whether there is a pandemic or not, the mental health of children needs to be a focus of the adults there to protect them.

Parents need to take care of themselves, but they also need to be aware of the warning signs associated with a decline in mental health with their children and adolescents. Social isolation, loss of interest in activities, poor nutrition or activity, and shifts in mood are all signs of depression and anxiety in children of all ages.

One of the greatest determinants of resiliency, however, is family support. If a child or even an adult feels like they have someone to reach out to, they are more likely to use coping skills, seek help from a professional, and continue to thrive. Lack of support, however, compounds the issue, leading to a severity in symptoms, a decline in activities of daily living, and could lead to suicidal ideation.

Unaddressed mental health concerns can continue into adulthood and cause issues surrounding substance use, employment, and an increase in health issues or continual suicidal ideation. Breaking the cycle now, and increasing healthy coping skills and resilience creates an opportunity for a healthier future.

Being a support to your child is easy – it just requires a little extra time and focus. Carve out a little one-on-one time daily to sit down and talk to your child about their day. It can be as simple as engaging about their friends, a school project, extracurricular activity or a mutual interest, such as music, movies or vacations. Being present and truly listening without the distraction of electronic devices is priceless for a child’s well-being and development.

While it is easy to focus on the negative, also remember to ask about the good things that happened. It is important to show empathy for whatever situation your child is going through. You may not be able to relate. That is okay. Let them know their feelings are valid and help lift them up to be able to handle their feelings. Most importantly, do not be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to your child’s pediatrician for resources or referrals to mental health providers.

It is important to remember that it is okay not to feel okay, but it is also essential to reach out and ask for help – whether it is for you or your loved ones. The importance of awareness cannot be overstated whether it is during a pandemic or routine day when it comes to mental health and behavioral health care. Be vigilant and care for your own mental health, as well.

The National Council for Mental Wellbeing outlines how mental health and well-being touches many people in our lives. For example, 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience mental illness annually; 1 in 20 adults in the country encounter serious mental illness each year; 1 in 6 Americans aged 6 to 17 experience a mental health disorder annually, while 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24.

Jessica Ives, MSW, LSW, is the director of case management and community programs at Family Service Association of Northeastern Pennsylvania (FSA), a not-for-profit, non-sectarian organization that provides diverse services to children, individuals, seniors, and families.

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