Mental Health is as Important as Physical Health
When raising a child, it’s easy to recognize their physical needs. As a parent, you must provide your child with meals that offer them the nutrients their body needs to be healthy, clothes that properly fit them, a roof over their head, and physical exercise to keep them active and in shape. Your child’s physical health is vital to their growth and development. However, it’s not the only thing you should prioritize. Children’s mental health is just as critical to their overall health as their physical health. However, it does not receive the attention it deserves.
Part of the reason for this is because it’s harder to recognize and identify the emotional and mental needs of a child. Any mental health issues they may be struggling with are much harder to address than their physical needs. Another reason children’s mental health isn’t treated as a priority is that it is often trivialized and doesn’t receive the care needed to prevent long-term effects.
Children’s mental health has a complex relationship with many factors of a child’s life, including their academic performance, relationships, and physical health. Far too many adults overlook or ignore a child’s mental health struggles. However, many children do suffer from mental illness. Tots N Teens Pediatrics would like to take this time to address the importance of children’s mental health and to explain why it should be a priority for all parents.
Mental Health by the Numbers
Unfortunately, many young children struggle with mental illness. In a recent study, nearly one in six youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder yearly, totaling nearly 7.7 million children. Additionally, only 50.6% of these youths received any treatment. When a child does not receive the care and treatment for their mental health disorder, they are more likely to develop issues that last throughout their life.
Unfortunately, the average delay between the onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years, meaning by the time a mental health disorder is diagnosed, their issues have entrenched themselves into their minds. Once these issues are embedded, they struggled to succeed in school, relationships, and jobs. And things can turn even more severe. Suicide is the second leading cause of death between the ages 10-34. The majority of these victims suffer from an underlying mental illness, which was never diagnosed or treated at a young age.
By the age of 14, 50% of lifetime mental illness will begin and 75% by the age of 24, meaning these disorders can be treated and diagnosed early, but they often never are. Some of these conditions are:
- Anxiety Disorders
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Eating Disorders
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Pediatric Bipolar Disorder
- Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)
- And more
Many different mental health disorders plague young children all across the country. Many of these often don’t receive the care and attention they deserve, forcing children to suffer alone.
Signs and Symptoms
As we mentioned earlier, it’s more difficult to identify and address mental health concerns in children. After all, growing up and normal childhood development is often marked by change. There are a lot of behaviors and emotions that are just a part of growing up. Many young children and adolescents display challenging behavior. While many of these actions and emotions are common for regular childhood development, some of them are indicative of something more serious.
You must remember that many of the above mental health disorders do affect young children the same as adults. They can leave lasting effects on a child’s life, preventing them from becoming a successful adult. As a parent, guardian, or teacher, you should stay alert for any of these signs in a child:
- Weight loss or gain
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Declining academic performance
- Skipping school
- Unexplained stomach aches or headaches
- Feelings of sadness, lasting two or more weeks
- Social isolation
- Severe mood swings
- Intense anxiety, fear, or worrying that affects daily life
- Violent outbursts
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Suicidal thoughts or tendencies
While some changes in behavior are a natural part of growing up, if these signs are severe and last for extended periods, there may be an underlying issue. Do not simply ignore or write off these symptoms.
What Can You Do
Children’s mental health should be taken seriously. Far too many people trivialize what children go through, believing it is just a phase. However, these are real issues they struggle with. As a parent or guardian, you must take the necessary steps to ensure your child’s mental health issues are cared for.
- Talk to their teachers. Reach out to your child’s teachers and school to get an understanding of how they are behaving. Are they lashing out at other students and teachers? Are they being bullied? Have they started isolating themselves from their peers? This will give you a better understanding of the extent of your child’s problems.
- Talk with your child. You should never assume how your child is feeling. If you notice them struggling in school, at work, or with their relationships, take them aside and have an open discussion with them. Assure them that their feelings are validated, and it is safe to express how they feel. Do not interrupt them. Allow them to say what they need to say. Show them that they do have someone to express their emotions to.
- Seek professional help. While it is always good to try to open a line of communication with your child first, it doesn’t always work. There is no shame in seeking the help of a professional. After all, their job is to identify and treat any mental health disorders plaguing your child. They may suggest psychotherapy, medications, family counseling, or more. Talk to your child’s doctor for a referral.
Ending the Stigma
Children’s mental health should be a priority for any parent, guardian, teacher, or anyone else tasked with caring for children. However, it is often written off. When these issues are ignored, they lead to lasting effects on children’s lives. If you believe your child may be suffering from a mental health disorder, contact Tots N Teens Pediatrics and let us help you find a mental health expert to aid your child.