May is designated as National Children's Mental Health Awareness Month—an effort by the mental health community to bring awareness to growing children's mental health concerns in the United States. Although children's mental health is not a widely acknowledged or discussed topic, Mississippi Children's Home Services (MCHS) is working to open that dialogue and bring about an environment of acceptance, encouragement and healing.
Breaking Down the Mental Health Stigma
May is designated as National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month—an effort by the mental health community to bring awareness to growing children’s mental health concerns in the United States. Although children’s mental health is not a widely acknowledged or discussed topic, Mississippi Children’s Home Services (MCHS) is working to open that dialogue and bring about an environment of acceptance, encouragement and healing.
“It’s time that we lift the veil of stigma on mental health disorders and advocate for children's mental health in the same way we do their physical health,” said John Damon, CEO of MCHS. “Just like with physical health, it must be a priority for parents to quickly address mental health needs to ensure every child has the opportunity to thrive.”
A study recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows a number of mental disorders are on the rise amongst children between the ages of three and 17. Mental disorders among children are described as serious changes in the ways children typically learn, behave or the manner in which they handle their emotions. During the study, the CDC identified six specific disorders emerging in the greatest prevalence: ADHD, behavior or conduct disorders, major depression, anxiety, Autism Spectrum Disorder and Tourette’s Syndrome. In total, the CDC concluded that just over 20 percent of children in the United States, either currently or at some point during their adolescent life, has experienced serious symptoms of a mental health disorder.
Here are a few other statistics from leading health organizations you might find surprising:
- 1 in 5 youth will experience some form of mental health concern —that is approximately 14.5 MILLION children.
- Mental health disorders don’t discriminate; they impact individuals of all demographics including race, religion, nationality, socioeconomic status and age.
- Half of all chronic mental disorders onset before age 14.
- Suicide was the 3rd leading cause of death among U.S. teenagers.
- Mood disorders, such as depression, are the 3rd most common reason for hospitalization in the U.S.
- Autism affects 1 in 68 children; 1 in 42 boys.
- Less than 20% of children who experience mental health issues receive the help they need.
Sources: National Alliance on Mental Illness; National Institute of Mental Health; www.childrensdefense.org; www.schoolmentalhealth.org
The mental health stigma in the United States has created a preconceived notion that those with mental health issues are dangers to society, are violent and destructive, are “not normal” and should be avoided or locked away. The fact is, we all experience some degree of depression, anxiety, trauma or obsession at some point in our lives; however, this stigma has caused many to feel ashamed of these feelings and hide them away rather than seek help. When children don’t learn healthy ways to express “big emotions,” such as sadness, anger, worry, fear or even excitement, they can develop negative, substance or destructive behaviors that can have a profound impact on their lives. As children fall deeper into a disorder, they are more likely to turn to alcohol, drugs, self-harm such as cutting, or even suicide, to escape the reality in which they live. That is why it is important that parents, teachers and individuals who work with children know the warning signs of mental health disorders so they are identified and intervened early.
Warning signs for mental health disorders in children and adolescents:
- Mood changes. Look for feelings of sadness or withdrawal that last at least two weeks or severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships at home or school.
- Intense feelings. Be aware of feelings of overwhelming fear for no reason, or worries or fears intense enough to interfere with daily activities.
- Behavior changes. Drastic changes in behavior or personality, as well as dangerous or out-of-control behavior. Fighting frequently, using weapons and expressing a desire to badly hurt others also are warning signs.
- Difficulty concentrating. Look for signs of trouble focusing or an inability to sit still for any length of time, both of which might lead to poor performance in school.
- Unexplained weight loss. A sudden loss of appetite, frequent vomiting or use of laxatives might indicate an eating disorder.
- Physical symptoms. Compared with adults, children with a mental health condition may develop chronic headaches and stomachaches rather than sadness or anxiety.
- Physical harm. Sometimes a mental health condition leads to self-injury, also called self-harm. This is the act of deliberately harming your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself. Children with a mental health condition also may develop suicidal thoughts or actually attempt suicide.
- Substance abuse. Some kids use drugs or alcohol to try to cope with their feelings.
The majority of individuals who receive help for mental health disorders are able to recover and go on to lead happy, healthy and productive lives. It is important to encourage those experiencing mental health issues to seek help to circumvent prolonged effects.
A collaborative effort between parents, educators, community advocates and health care professionals can put an end to the mental health stigma that plagues our society. More awareness of the facts and issues can lead to more acceptance and the breaking down of stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination of those facing mental health disorders.
For more information on children’s mental health services provided through Mississippi Children’s Home Services, please visit www.mchscares.org.