May is Mental Health Month. What does this signify? It means we need to work to raise awareness for the men, women, and children who surround us who are suffering with a mental health condition. Did you know that more than 1 million Coloradoans deal with mental health illness? Even with so many people affected, it can be difficult to talk about the signs with the people we know and love. Here are a few ways you can give and receive help to raise awareness this month, especially when it comes to your kids.
The first step is to raise awareness. We all need to work together to fight stigma, educate ourselves and the public, and help those suffering to get relief. What are some of the best ways to raise awareness? First, you need to understand just how common mental health conditions really are. Approximately:
- 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (42.8 million people) experience mental illness in a given year,
- 1 in 5 children age 13-18 experience a severe mental disorder at some point during their life (source).
Knowing just how many people are affected directly by mental illness is important. The odds are, someone in your life is dealing with a mental health condition, and could use support.
Know the Signs
In order to help someone suffering with a mental health condition like depression, you need to know the signs. Because there is such a stigma around mental health, most people aren’t open to talking about the pain they are experiencing. And, children may not even understand or be able to explain what they are dealing with. This is why we all need to know the signals that alert us to any mental health problems our loved ones are experiencing. Here are a few signs to look for in kids and teens:
- Behavior Changes (nightmares, more emotional, withdrawn, sleep problems)
- Loss of Interest in Fun Activities
- Getting into Trouble Often at School
- Substance Abuse
- Physical Changes (headaches, loss or change of appetite, stomach pain)
- Low Energy
- Talk of Suicide
- Signs of Self-Harm Behavior
- Constantly Negative or Irritable
- Talk of Running Away from Home
- Declining Grades
- Trouble Concentrating
- Social Isolation
- Loss of Friends
- Low Self-Esteem or Guilt
What You Can Do
All it takes is one caring, responsive adult in a child’s life to make a difference. If you notice your child is showing any of the above symptoms, take action. Speak with them, and ask questions about their behavior. Be sure to listen, and be present. Don’t dismiss their feelings, but work on empathizing and letting them know you care. Finally, determine whether or not professional care should be sought. You may want to speak with your pediatrician to discuss a care plan to help your child get relief. Additionally, you may want to seek help on exactly what you can do to encourage and support your child during this time. This toolkit provides some great resources for helping children who struggle with mental illness.
Let’s Work Together for Mental Health Month and Beyond
Let’s partner and work to change the conversation surrounding mental health – especially when it comes to our children. By being aware of the problem, knowing the warning sings, and know what you can do to help, we will make a difference.