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Inside Healthy Minds: Child Mental Health Awareness

By Florida Department of Health, Office of Communications

November 12, 2013

Healthy physical development in kids and teens is easy to see on the outside, but how can we know if their mental state is healthy? The world of mental health development is generally unfamiliar to parents and caregivers—yet, it can be just as important to a child’s health as proper nutrition, sleep and exercise.

The mental health of our nation’s kids and teens has come into sharp focus as our children now face unprecedented exposure to violent situations at school, in the media and in social settings. Bullying and abuse through social media to the detriment of children is at a new high. Childhood is a crucial time for mental growth and development, and parents and caregivers can take action to help kids avoid mental distress.

According to New York University’s Child Study Center, more than 75 percent of mental health disorders originate during childhood and their adolescent years. However, less than one quarter of kids who need services actually receive treatment. The number of children who never are afforded a proper diagnosis or treatment is in the millions.

Childhood mental health issues can include mild anxiety or learning disabilities, moderate Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Depression or Bipolar disorder. From a parent’s perspective, it can be difficult to determine if their child’s mental health is threatened.

Parents, better than anyone else, know when their child’s behavior seems unusual. While families can’t keep all of life’s stressors at bay, they can make sure children have a solid emotional foundation and appropriate support. Research shows children given this secure foundation are less likely to develop physical and mental health issues later in life. Early intervention and prevention is integral to a child’s successful emotional development. Additionally, they are found to be better able to handle adversity and are overall, more resilient.

The following are tips for parents and families to give children a secure foundation:

  • Provide a safe and nurturing home that supports positive social and emotional development.
  • Spend time with your kids—playing, singing, reading, and just talking. This can make a big difference in a child’s development.
  • Set positive and age-appropriate rules and discipline.
  • Talk gently, yet openly and honestly with your child if you suspect a problem.
  • Consult with your child’s health care provider, teachers, clergy or other adults who know your child well.

Some potential signs of mental health issues:

Elementary and Middle School age:

  • Sudden changes in sleep habits.
  • Persistent nightmares.
  • Excessive fear, worrying, or crying.
  • Extreme disobedience or aggression.
  • Persistent difficulty separating from a parent.
  • Hyperactivity beyond other kids.
  • Loss of interest in friends or favorite activities.
  • Sudden changes in weight.
  • Visible prolonged sadness.
  • Substance use or abuse.
  • Seeing or hearing things that are not there.

High School age:

Behaviors may become more serious as children get older. Look for:

  • Destructive behavior, such as damaging property or setting fires.Harmful behaviors toward self or animals.
  • Engaging in very high risk behaviors, such as experimentation with alcohol or other drugs.
  • Constantly threatening to run away or running away.
  • Withdrawal from family and friends.
  • Comments or writings that suggest a desire to harm self or others.

Relationships can be a good external measure of well-being. Take note of the type of friends your child makes and how well he or she maintains these friendships.

Active participation by both parent and child during a professional health evaluation and the recommended treatment is essential. This is especially true when younger children are treated. Keep in mind however, that some signs of mental illness can resemble symptoms of completely different problems, such as a sleep disorder. The important first step is to know for sure whether or not your child has a mental health issue, and if so, which steps should be taken. If you believe your child is struggling with a mental health issue, seek assistance from a trained child and adolescent mental health professional right away.

Visit the Florida Department of Health at www.floridahealth.gov. For additional information on Children’s Mental Health Services in Florida, please visit the Florida Department of Children and Families webpage, www.myflfamilies.com/service-programs/mental-health/childrens-mental-health-services. The national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also has information for parents seeking treatment at www.samhsa.gov/treatment/. The SAMHSA 24-hour Help Line is 1-800-799-4889.

Additional Resources