This week is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week. As a child therapist with over 20 years of experience, I have a lot of thoughts on this subject so I had to work hard to narrow down what to say here. I decided to focus on a couple points that I think are most important for you to know about kids and mental health.
First: Kids are people, too. One of my favorite children’s books is Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. As the title suggests, Alexander has a terrible day and initially no one is listening as he tries to talk about it. The idea seems to be that no one takes him seriously or understands that a kid can have problems. I see this attitude a lot. When I tell people I am a child therapist they say “What could a child possible need a therapist for?” I wish I could get Alexander to help me shout from a mountaintop that kids struggle with emotional issues of all varieties and severity. Kids deal with everything from having bad days to severe mental illness. Depression, and anxiety are incredibly common among kids as young as 5 or 6 years old. I won’t get into my theory on why that is but suffice to say, kids today are dealing with a lot and they need our help.
The second is to trust your instincts. If you are a parent or teacher and you feel something is not right with your child, don’t ignore that. You may not be able to put into words exactly why you are concerned, but it’s still important to follow up. Just like with any medical problem, early diagnosis and treatment are crucial. Children who receive treatment have much better outcomes and long term prognosis. It can be hard to determine exactly what might be going on with a child because kids don’t have the words to tell us clearly. Another complicating factor is that different problems can have the same symptoms. For instance, a child who is having trouble paying attention, following directions and sitting still might have ADHD but they might also have anxiety. Also, mental health issues in children may look different than in adults. For instance, children who are depressed are often irritable whereas adults are usually sad and unmotivated.
If you are concerned about a child in your life or you just want to learn more, there are a number of helpful resources listed below. Please reach out for help for your child and support for yourself. All of the Alexanders out there are counting on us!
To contact me, visit my website at wynneshawcounseling.com