Children’s mental health issues are more common than most might realize. Despite their widespread prevalence, many parents and caregivers may struggle to broach the subject or find ways to talk about their kids’ mental health.
Part of the reason mental health can feel so difficult to talk about is because there has been a long-standing stigma surrounding it. But the best way to break a stigma is by talking about it — and doing so can yield life-changing results and long-lasting healthy habits.
Most common mental health issues in children & risk factors
According to the CDC, the most commonly-diagnosed mental disorders in children are anxiety, depression, ADHD, and behavior problems. About 7% of children aged 3-17 have anxiety, and that number increases with age. Isolating 12-17 year-olds, 13% have had a major depressive episode, and nearly 32% have had an anxiety disorder.
On top of that, rates of depression and anxiety among children have increased over time. A study published in JAMA found the prevalence of children’s depression and anxiety rates doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some children are more prone to experiencing mental health disorders than others. The likelihood that a child will encounter mental health issues increases depending on a variety of individual, family, and community/school risk factors.
On the individual side, children with anxiety, poor social skills, low self-esteem, or early puberty may be more at risk of being diagnosed with a mental disorder. Family factors that impact children’s mental health include parental depression, divorce or marital conflicts, and child abuse, among others.
Community-wise, poverty, stress or traumatic events, peer rejection, and community violence are all risk factors that can lead to mental health issues in youth. You can find a complete list of risk factors, along with protective factors, here.
Why we need to start talking about children’s mental health
Mental health disorders among children are increasingly common and shouldn’t be taboo. Just as we wouldn’t expect children to keep walking on a broken leg, we shouldn’t expect them to suffer in silence when they’re mentally unwell. Mental and physical health are closely linked and equally important. Talking about mental health from an early age can help form healthy habits and maintain a strong mental well being, as well as contribute to removing the stigma associated with mental health.
Being open about psychiatric issues can be life-saving, as it can result in lower suicide rates and encourage treatment. These benefits far outweigh any potential discomfort that may arise in discussing children’s mental health.
How parents can help improving pediatric mental health
- Model good behavior for children to replicate
- Allow children to express their emotions
- Provide unconditional love and support
- Teach stress management
- Encourage healthy habits, like proper sleep and a nutritious diet
- Provide a safe and secure environment
- Help kids build self-esteem and self-love
Resources for children’s mental health
As parents and caregivers, it may feel daunting to understand the signs of pediatric mental distress — or what to do when you have concerns. Children’s mental health is a complex topic, and you don’t have to broach it alone. Thankfully, there are are many resources available to help.
Children’s books on mental health:
- Ruby Finds a Worry
- When Sophie Gets Angry — Really, Really Angry
- The Way I Feel
- What I Like About Me
- Pediatricians: Initial resource with whom to discuss referrals and treatment options
- School counselors: For support at school
- Pediatric social workers: For helping counsel children and families and teaching coping skills
- Child psychiatrists and psychologists: For diagnosing, testing, and treating mental disorders
- Helplines: 24/7 Kids and Teens Helpline
Parents can take this initial screening from Mental Health America to help them assess their child’s risk level for a mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder.
Find more invaluable mental health resources here.
At ObservSMART, we post frequently about mental health issues affecting children and adults. Keep up with our blog for more helpful resources.
Looking for immediate assistance?
If you think your child is in danger, call a crisis line or the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
If your child is in need of community mental health services, you can find help in your area.