Not only does May bring with it some welcome temperature changes and beautiful flowers but it also serves as a time that we can bring even more awareness to mental health. Every May is Mental Health Awareness Month and this first week also happens to be Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week. As you can imagine that means things are jam-packed here at the Parent Alliance. This is an incredible opportunity to have some real and honest conversations about the state of children’s mental health right now while continuing to bust nasty stigmas surrounding mental health as a whole. The ongoing pandemic has caused a mental health crisis and an already flawed system has been struggling to keep up with the demand of individuals who are seeking help.
Due to the volume of people who are struggling with their mental health right now we wanted to shift the blog’s focus this month. All month long we will feature practical articles that can give you, the parent, tips and tricks to help ensure that your child’s mental health is being addressed and prioritized. These straight-to-the-point articles will cover some of the topics that our Family Support Partners are hearing most about right now. Later this month you can expect to see articles on; the physical symptoms associated with anxiety, how to support a child who doesn’t live at home anymore, tips on helping a child who is struggling with depression and hygiene, and a topic that everyone can relate to right now; burnout recovery.
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To kick off the month we are going to take a look at some signs that may signal your child is struggling with their mental health. Every child is different so of course, there is no “one-size-fits-all” list of signs, however, these are some of the most common ones that every parent should be keeping an eye out for. We know that it can be scary to think that your child may be struggling but addressing mental health challenges early and opening up that dialogue in your household can have long-lasting positive impacts on your children’s lives.
1. Drastic Mood Changes
You know better than anybody that some days your child is just not having a great day. Perhaps they are tired, upset about something, or just overall having an “off” day. This is very normal and happens to everyone. However, a persistent stretch of “off days” is something that should be monitored. According to the Child Mind Institute, a warning sign parents can look for is if their child is “feeling very sad or withdrawn for two or more weeks.” Again, every situation is very different but this 2-week benchmark can help you better visualize when a problem should be addressed.
Children also show their emotions very differently. If a child is struggling with their mental health they may not express that emotion as sadness. Be on the lookout for any drastic mood changes like all of a sudden they are incredibly irritable, angry, anxious, or they just seem kind of all over the place emotionally. Don’t second guess yourself. You know your child and you know what is normal for them and what is not.
2. Loss of interest/isolation
One of the most beautiful things about parenting is watching your child light up when they talk about something that gets them excited. Whether it is a new friend, a new hobby, a subject in school, or a game they love to play with their siblings. As a parent you know what topics you could bring up that would get your child excited to talk about. However, a person who is struggling with their mental health often loses interest in things that once brought them joy. If you now bring up these topics and are met with a cold shoulder, or one-worded answers, that is a sign that you should check on their mental health.
The same goes for their peers, friends, neighbors, and family. If you notice that your child no longer hangs out with or speaks about the people they used to socialize with then you should be on alert. Many people who struggle with their mental health will begin to self-isolate. You could notice this in the form of them not wanting to leave their rooms, trying to get out of social events, and not seeming interested when you try and talk about their friends.
3. Avoidance/new fears emerging
This one also kind of goes hand in hand with the first 2 signs. According to Patient.info a child who is struggling with their anxiety may seemingly all of a sudden want to avoid things they once enjoyed or things that were once a part of their normal day-to-day life. If your child all of a sudden gets angry or starts to panic about having to do something or go somewhere they once enjoyed, this could be a sign that they are struggling. It's not only anger but if your child starts to get upset, anxious, or even have a meltdown about doing something that is a pretty standard task for them then you should check-in.
Patient.info makes an excellent point that COVID further complicates this one and a lot of children are feeling anxious about socializing in general after being told for two years that it was bad. If you do notice that your child is getting panicky and or angry about having to do something or go somewhere that they used to enjoy, try and get to the root of what is making them feel this way. Ask them why they are so insistent about not wanting to go. If they can't give you a reason you can ask if it's because they are worried. It may be hard for them to verbalize a reason for not wanting to go. This could be because they don't have the words to describe their anxiety as anxiety.
4. Issues with Sleep
Sleep can be a huge indicator of how a child’s mental health is doing. You want to be on the lookout for both less sleep than normal for your child AND more sleep than normal for your child. Like sign number 1 you know your child and you know what an average amount of sleep is for them. Now, again, everyone has off nights where we get less sleep than we hoped for but if your child is consistently expressing that they are tired, didn't sleep well, or you notice them up at odd hours this could be a sign that their mind is racing and it is keeping them up at night.
On the flip side if you notice that your child is going to bed consistently way earlier than they usually do, and when morning comes they are having an extremely difficult time getting out of bed this too could be a sign that they may be struggling.
5. Changes in appetite
Later in the month, we will explore the way that anxiety can physically impact a child. One of the signs that could be noticed by parents is a change in their eating habits. Anxiety can really mess with a child’s appetite and stomach and cause them to feel nauseous. If you notice that your child is having fewer snacks or foods than normal, or if at dinner they are doing a lot more moving their food around the plate than actually eating it could be a sign that you may want to check-in with them. Similar to sleeping, if you notice that your child is eating a lot more than they used to (consistently), especially in short amounts of time, then this could be a sign they are struggling as well.
You want to be very conscious of this particular sign because a child’s relationship with food can really impact their mental health. Disordered eating is among one of the most deadly mental health challenges and people often have a misunderstanding about what it looks like. Children of all genders and body types could struggle with their relationship with food and like everything else mentioned, if you notice a change in appetite you want to address it swiftly and let your child know you are there for them.
If you saw your child in one or more of these signs; breathe. We know that it can be so overwhelming to hear that your child is struggling with anything, especially their mental health. Just by reading this article and equipping yourself with the knowledge you need, you are already on the right path to help them. If you would like to speak with a parent who knows what it’s like to be in your shoes give our Family Support Partners a call at 570-664-8615 or book a time to talk with them HERE. This personalized one-on-one help is confidential and of no charge to you.
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