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YOU, YOUR KIDS & SCHOOL: Are the kids all right? A look at mental health

Hutchinson Leader - 11/25/2017

A story in the Journal for School Nursing reported, "Recent estimates indicate that mental health issues affect 20 to 25 percent of children and adolescents in the United States, and of these, only 36 percent receive mental health services."

As parents and adults, we have seen the increase in reports related to mental health concerns across our country and even worldwide: the terrorist attacks, the shootings, celebrity deaths, the protests and so on. It feels like this has become our new norm. However, we need to take back the health of our kids and support them.

Youth suicide has been an increased concern for our public and with reports of suicide being the third-leading cause of death for youth age 10-19, we need to figure out how to support our youth. It is reported the majority of youth having suicidal ideation do not seek out help from an adult but rather a friend. This means we need to look for signs of mental health concerns in our kids, teach our children to ask for help when they are approached by friends, and have resources available.

According to the National Institute on Mental Illness, "Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14; three-quarters by age 24. Despite effective treatment, there are long delays - sometimes decades- between the first appearance of symptoms and when people get help."

Having open conversations and not overreacting to your child's feelings and needs is essential in building a supportive relationship. Starting this process early can help you identify if there are small changes in your child's health and when interventions are needed. Discuss what you are seeing and suggest a plan. Remember be patient, understanding and provide hope.

According to NAMI, each mental health illness has its own symptoms, but common signs can include the following for adults/adolescents:

excessive worrying or fear,feeling excessively sad or low,problems concentrating and learning,extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable "highs" or feelings of euphoria,prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger,avoiding friends and social activities,difficulties understanding or relating to other people,changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy,changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite,abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs,multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing "aches and pains"),thinking about suicide,inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress, andan intense fear of weight gains or concern with appearance

Mental health conditions can also begin to develop in young children. Because they're still learning how to identify and talk about thoughts and emotions, their most obvious symptoms are behavioral. Symptoms in children may include the following:

changes in school performance,excessive worry or anxiety, for instance fighting to avoid bed or school,hyperactive behavior,frequent nightmares,frequent disobedience or aggression, andfrequent temper tantrums.

As parents, guardians and trusted adults in our youth's life, we want to know what we can do!

Don't buy into the stigma. Separate the illness from the person.Expect decent behavior. Lay out what you need from the individual and use specific language, such as "If you continue to scream at me I will not communicate with you."Learn to communicate effectively. Say "I am concerned that you don't seem interested in what I am saying" instead of "You're not listening to me."See it from their perspective - how are they feeling?Focus on the larger goal. We may become defensive at times, but look at what you want to accomplish and take a step back and think if this will be beneficial for our goal.Use direct, simple, clear, language and describe what you want and why, such as "Please read and sign them before we have lunch. I'd feel relieved knowing they're done, and we can enjoy the rest of the afternoon knowing you're ready for school."

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact your health care professional for further guidance and support for you and your child.


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