Taking Care of Children’s Mental Health

Happy couple shaking hands with therapist after a successful session.

When most of us think about folks going to therapy for mental health, we think about adults — people struggling with substance abuse, domestic violence survivors, folks going through a divorce, and those who are dealing with the loss of a loved one, for example.  Unfortunately, many in society tend to overlook a critical group that needs mental help therapy just as much as everyone else: the youth.  Just because this younger segment of the population might not have mortgage payments and bank accounts to worry about doesn’t mean they’re immune from mental health problems. In fact, one recent report found that 27 percent of young people felt anxiety within the last week, while 15 percent felt depressed.  Believe it or not, more than half of high-risk youth don’t have access to the therapy they need to ensure their mental, emotional, and physical well-being. In the next section, we’ll examine why that is. 

Why Children’s Mental Health Is Often Neglected 

One of the main reasons kids are an underserved population for mental health services is because society hasn’t necessarily prioritized the importance of mental health counseling for young people as much as it should.   Case in point? According to the American School Counselor Association, each school should have one counselor per 250 students to ensure they’re getting the mental health support they need to live their best lives. Despite that, the average school district has just one counselor per 455 students.  Right off the bat, we’re collectively setting the tone that says something like this: While student mental health services are important, they’re not incredibly important to the point we need to make them a top priority.  Perhaps this is because many adults think that kids who are suffering through issues are “just going through a stage” — and that their problems aren’t anywhere as serious as an adult’s problems might be. This couldn’t be further from the truth — particularly for those who grow up in less-than-ideal circumstances (e.g., in poverty or with an abusive parent). 

The COVID-19 pandemic 

Since kids can struggle with mental health issues in the best of times, it comes as no surprise that these struggles only compounded in the wake of the pandemic  All of a sudden, life was flipped upside down for those in the younger generation. Their routines were completely changed overnight. They couldn’t go to school, they couldn’t see their friends, and they couldn’t leave their houses.  Not every child was able to seamlessly transition into the new normal. In fact, many youngsters reported having a hard time coping with attending class over Zoom and being separated from other students. Kids were also scared about the virus itself. For these reasons, it comes as no surprise that the prevalence of depression and anxiety was even higher than normal among this group of kids when COVID-19 set in.  The good news is that by giving children’s mental health the respect it deserves and taking a proactive stance with treatment, it’s possible to help kids navigate through their issues and end up in a much healthier state of mind because of it. 

How Therapy Can Improve Children’s Mental Health 

When parents prioritize their kids’ mental health and give them the support they need to get past the issues they’re facing, great things happen  When kids are in a solid place, they’re able to think clearly, learn new things, and improve their social skills. At the same time, parents’ mental health improves, too, since they benefit from a stronger relationship and can find joy in seeing their kids thrive.  No matter what issues your child is struggling with, the right therapist can help them. For example, if you and your child aren’t getting along, you may benefit from parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT), which is designed to help kids and parents overcome concerns related to things like ADHD, anxiety disorder, autism, oppositional defiant disorder, and selective mutism, among other conditions.  Essentially, both parties join forces in PCIT to work through issues together, and these learnings can help guide the relationship forward over the next several years. After somewhere between three and six months, the therapy sessions wrap up, and parents and kids build on their relationship from there.  Similarly, if a child is working through physical or emotional trauma they’ve experienced, parents might want to look into whether trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) can help them overcome the obstacles they’re facing.  At a basic level, TF-CBT is a cognitive behavioral treatment that helps children figure out how to overcome trauma, respond to stressful situations, and cope with difficult emotions. They’ll also grow more in tune with their emotions and more able to express their feelings in productive ways.  By now, you have a better idea about how therapy can help improve children’s mental health. But what if you’re not a therapist — is there anything else you can do? 

Kids and Depression: What Parents, Teachers, and Caregivers Can Do 

While parents, teachers, and caregivers might not be able to give children professional mental health services, they can certainly help anxious kids work through their issues. Here are some ways they can do that. 

Maintain an open dialogue 

First things first: If you’re not talking to the children in your life on a regular basis, how can you possibly expect to know what they’re dealing with and what’s going through their minds?   One of the easiest ways to help kids deal with mental health problems is by maintaining an open dialogue with them to understand the issues they’re working through. For example, as the pandemic first shut down schools, parents were in a unique position to talk to their kids about the virus and what the experts had to say about it. By being open and honest, parents can help assuage some of their children’s concerns — particularly compared to folks who didn’t have much to say to their kids about the issue.  Bottom line? By engaging in conversation with your kids every day and knowing more about the issues they’re facing, you can begin to have healthy dialogues that can help kids overcome the challenges they face. 

Recognize the warning signs 

It’s one thing for a child to have a bad day. It’s quite another to have several bad days in a row, with no signs of anything improving anytime soon.   While parents, teachers, and caregivers aren’t able to provide professional mental health services, they can become familiar with the warning signs that may indicate they are suffering from issues like depression or anxiety. Here are some of the indicators to be aware of: 

  • Lack of appetite 
  • Low motivation 
  • Withdrawal from activities 
  • Fatigue 
  • Worsened school performance 
  • Low self-esteem 

Seek help when it’s needed 

Once you’re familiar with the warning signs to look out for, you’ll know when it’s time to enlist the services of a mental health counselor to help your child or student live a happier, more fulfilling life. 

Ready to find a therapist in your area who is the perfect match for your child? Start searching for a therapist who specializes in child psychology today! 

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  • Jerilynn

    June 25th, 2023 at 8:40 PM

    This could help for my youngest child and myself. Thank you.

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