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My Child Told Me They Need Help; Now What?

"I have been a camp counselor since high school and never have I seen so many of my campers dealing with such serious mental health challenges. We have had several instances of self-harm as well as children dealing with anxiety and depression. This pandemic has taken an obvious toll on them. I will say that while it has been difficult to watch I am also so proud of many of the campers I interact with. I have had a number of these children come to me or my coworkers and advocate for themselves and tell us that they either need to go home and seek mental health services or ask us to figure out a way to coordinate telehealth for them here. It is really amazing to see young children speak up for themselves and make their mental health a priority." said a PA camp counselor who we spoke with this summer when we checked in to see how the children they interact with have been impacted by the pandemic.

If your child is engaging in self-harm or you suspect that they may be, consider signing up for our webinar; Unbearable: An Open and Honest Conversation About Self Harm for a raw conversation between a mother and her daughter about their path to healing.

What this camp counselor shared with us is on par with what we have been hearing from parents, children, and young adults all throughout the summer. Frankly, everyone is struggling right now and children are no exception. That is why we put together a list of the top 3 things to do if your child comes to you and tells you they are struggling. If this is your first time helping your child with a mental health concern it can be incredibly overwhelming to know where to start. These are the first 3 things you can do to ensure that your child knows you are here for them, and to get them started on the path to receiving the help they need.

1. Breathe

Don't panic. Them coming to you is a great thing and is a testament to your relationship with them. We know that the second we hear that our kids are hurting in any way a switch flips in our minds and all we can think about is how we can get them to stop hurting. It can be really jarring to hear your child is struggling but we encourage you to not panic.

While your mind is racing and may be thinking of the worst-case scenario do not jump to any conclusions. If it is not a crisis, don't act like it's a crisis. Not everyone who experiences mental health challenges is also experiencing suicide ideations. Do not overreact to the point that your child becomes scared to come to you in the future. Below are some of the most common resources you can get from your phone. If you want, share it with your child, print it out and put it on your fridge. Tell them that they DO NOT have to be experiencing suicide ideations to reach out to the Suicide Prevention Hotline, this is a great resource for anyone who is struggling.

Remind your child (and yourself) that anyone who struggles with their mental health is far from alone. According to the prevalence of depression and anxiety symptoms in youth during COVID-19 have doubled compared to pre-pandemic numbers. Tell them that this has been a really hard two years and you are proud of them for advocating for themselves and that it shows a lot of strength to ask for help.

people hugging

2. Trust your child

Like we mentioned; them coming to you is wonderful. The fact that they felt comfortable sharing their struggles with you is exactly what you want as a parent. Let them do just that; share. Ask questions, and let them explain what's happening. Put your phone down, step into a different room than your other children, and sit down facing your child to let them know that they have your full and undivided attention. Actively listen to what they say they are feeling and absolutely DO NOT pass judgment or try and dismiss what you are being told. They wouldn't bring up what to some is a very sensitive topic, if they didn't need it to be taken seriously.

That being said not every child or young adult has the tools and vocabulary necessary to express what is happening to them. If your child comes to you or you suspect that they are struggling be on the lookout for signs. While many people may have one image in their head of what depression, or anxiety, or any other mental health challenge may look like, that is not always the case. Depression in youth, for example, is far more complex than a child staying in their room a lot or crying frequently- it's just not that simple. If they express that they are really angry, or scared, or sad but don't know why this could be a sign that they could be experiencing anxiety or depression. Also, as children grow the signs associated with mental health challenges evolve. Check out this great resource that breaks down what different signs may look like at different ages.

Check out these snippets of videos on Depression and Anxiety snippets in teens from one of our past webinars:

3. Start with your family doctor

Waitlists are long right now - that's not new news to anybody who has sought mental health support in the last year. While it is a sad reality that we are living in, there is a way for you to get the process started sooner for your child than sitting on one of those lists. Schedule an appointment for your child with your family doctor to discuss their symptoms and feelings. They can get the ball rolling for you and it is becoming more and more common for medical doctors to understand mental health challenges and some of them will even prescribe medicine for your child.

That being said, get on a list for mental health services in addition to the visit to your family doctor. Parents have told us that they are having success checking in with the agency they are on waitlists with. They call often, sometimes weekly, to see if there have been any appointment cancelations they can fill.

Keep your child in the loop throughout the process. Let them know that you have taken what they said seriously and you are working on getting them help. Really allow them to be a part of the process with you. For example, say things like; "I was able to get you a doctor's appointment next week. Does this work for you? Do you need to talk with someone sooner than that?" By keeping them in the loop you not only show that you are prioritizing what they said and getting them prompt help, but you may help to alleviate some of their anxiety associated with not knowing when or if they will be able to talk to someone.

hospital waiting room

BONUS 4. Talk to someone who gets it

It can be an isolating feeling to raise a child who is struggling. You need support too. If you want to speak with someone who gets it consider reaching out to one of our FREE and CONFIDENTIAL Family Support Partners (FSPs). They can simply be a nonjudgmental ear to vent to, or they can help you find the help your child needs.

Call us at 888-273-2361 or click here to schedule a time to talk with an FSP.

It is obvious that this has been a challenging time for our children, but we encourage you to recognize how difficult it has been for you too. As a parent, you have had to deal with a lot over the course of the last two years and we want to remind you that your mental health matters too. If you missed it last week our blog; Be Easy on Yourself, was full of ideas on how as a parent you can take care of yourself right now in order to be best prepared to help your child this upcoming school year.


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