If you have a child who struggles with Mental Illness, You are not alone. Mental illness affects 1.2 million of children and youth in Canada.
Jennifer's sixteen year old daughter was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and selective mutism and has struggled with mental illness which has impacted her school attendance and learning.
Effects of Poor Mental Health in Children
Poor mental health can have long term effects on an adolescent’s developing brain. Left untreated kids can continue suffering well into adulthood.
Some of the effects on children include:
- Difficulty making friends
- Problems focusing that affect academics
- Problems forming and maintaining relationships
- Reduced self-concept and self-esteem
- Avoiding social activities important positive life events
- Early alcohol and drug problems due to attempts to self-medicate
Early intervention can provide kid's skills, strategies and when necessary medication to address their symptoms.
Risk Factors for Mental Health Problems in Children
Risk factors that increase the chances of children developing mental health problems include both genetic and environmental factors.
Family history can increase the risk for children. Research indicates that for anxiety and depression genetics do play a small role. For other mental illnesses such as bipolar and schizophrenia genetics play a greater role.
Traumatic events can also increase risk of developing a mental illness. While research is demonstrating that most people recover from traumatic experiences, it is important that young people are provided with opportunities to discuss their experience in a safe environment.
Prolonged exposer to stress and conflict, can also have an impact on a child's perception, self-esteem and self-worth. Ongoing family conflict, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, bullying, discrimination and other forms of harassment put kids at increased risk.
How To Support Your Child's Mental Health
- Ensure kids getting enough sleep, eat well, get sufficient exercise
- Learn and recognize signs and symptoms, extended periods of feeling sad, down, uninterested in activities they enjoy, anxious, worried or avoidant of social situations, or substance use/abuse
- Be aware of negative thoughts and self-talk, such as all-or-nothing thinking, catastrophizing, and self-criticism and feelings of hopelessness
- Practice non-judgemental, active listening. Listening can help you child process their thoughts, feelings and emotions, and help them to feel supported
- Don't ignore warning signs. If you notice signs in your child of what you think might be mental illness, seek help from your doctor or a qualified mental health professional
- Encourage them to be kind to themselves. Remind them that life is full of highs and lows and they wellbeing is a skill, just like riding a bike.
More Resources Needed
Many parents have difficulty finding timely help when their kids need it.
- 75% of children with mental disorders do not have access to specialized treatment services
- One-third of Canadians aged 15 or older who report having a need for mental health care say those needs were not fully met
- Aboriginal youth are about five to six times more likely to die by suicide and Inuit youth die by suicide at 11 times the national average
The most common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression can be treated with counselling that helps kids learn mental habits and skills that help them heal.
Parents who are concerned about their children can seek Counselling provided by Clinical Psychologists, Licensed Professional Counsellors or Social Workers with specialized training in counselling.
Often parents become discouraged when they seek help through public health, when they learn it can be months before they can see a psychologist. However, most Psychologists, Counsellors and Social Workers are covered under health benefits plans provided through your workplace.
Across Canada insurance companies provide coverage for Licensed Therapists, Counsellors, and Psychotherapists. In Nova Scotia alone there are 370 licensed Counselling Therapists across the province. Check with your company to see if your plan covers Licensed Counselling Therapists, Counsellors, or Psychotherapists.
For Parents: Be aware of the risk factors and symptoms associated with mental health problems for children. Be proactive in finding them the necessary help.
Companies and Organizations: Understand the incredible stress parents who have children or teens suffering from mental illness. Ensure your extended health benefits plan covers Psychologists, Licensed Counselling Therapists, and Psychotherapists.
Take good care,
Your wellbeing matters. Take five minutes to learn if you are suffering, surviving or thriving in five essential areas of life and what you can do to improve your wellbeing. Try it now.
About the Author:
Derrick McEachern is a Registered Counselling Therapist (RCT) in Nova Scotia, and a Canadian Certified Counsellor. He specializes in providing mindfulness-based cognitive therapy in the areas of addiction, healthy relationships, grief and loss, and career and life transitions. He offers workshops and webinars and consults with businesses on ways to improve employee wellbeing and mental health.