Written by Erica Tatum-Sheade, LCSW, Owner and Licensed Psychotherapist, Integrated Mental Health Associates
Nearly 1 in 5 adults in the United States live with a mental illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “…49.5% of adolescents had any mental disorder. Of adolescents with any mental disorder, an estimated 22.2% had severe impairment.” Since 1949, May has been designated Mental Health Awareness Month, with an aim at ending the stigma associated with mental health difficulties by raising awareness of mental health conditions and those who have them. May also brings the end of school for many children. What we have learned from the last few years is that school provides a vital service for many children – one that is beyond just education. For many students, school is a safe-haven: providing social connections and access to supportive services – including access to social-emotional support services. So as the school year comes to an end, how do we ensure that we are supporting the most vulnerable people in our lives, our children? Here are ### ways:
Keep Them Active: If there was truly a “magic pill” that improved mental health, it would be diet and exercise. Giving children opportunities to move their bodies not only helps them to stay healthy, but also helps them to run off energy and also to engage in play – which is a primary way that children communicate their struggles and their needs. Physically active children are healthy children.
Lean In: Connection and Count are part of the “Crucial C’s of Childhood.” When a child has a meaningful connection with at least one adult, and through that connection knows that they matter, they are more likely to reach out for help because they know that they will be supported. One of the biggest protective factors that influences a child’s outcomes and increases resilience is a supportive relationship with an adult.
Ask For Help: We will never end the stigma around mental health unless we speak up and speak out. If our child had broken an arm, we would have no shame in asking for referrals to the best orthopedic doctor. Reaching out to friends/family who have utilized mental health services or even contacting mental health professionals directly can help to get your child the support they need. There are over 13,000 licensed mental health professionals in the state of Arizona. Yes the search can be overwhelming and often times confusing but relaying on supportive networks can help ease the search for help. Many offer free consultations to ensure they are good fit for your family. It’s also important to understand the best predictor of successful treatment is the relationship between the client and clinician. One needs to feel safe in order to open up so ensure the clinician is not just a good fit for you but someone your child feels comfortable enough to open up to
Most importantly, trust your gut. If a child in your life is experiencing struggles or is experiencing a sudden change in behaviors trust your gut and check in with them. Understand that they may not be able to fully express in the moment what they are experiencing but the consistent check in allows for the space for them to open up.