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November 29, 2017

Monitoring Mental Health in Our Youth

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Christine Kahan, MS

Gunpowder Elementary School, Baltimore, Maryland, and King Kahan Publishing

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Mental illness is not a topic that is often discussed in school as children grow up. However, 1 in 5 children will get a serious mental health disorder at some point, so perhaps this topic should be taught. Let that statistic really sink in: 15 million of our kids will have a serious mental illness, and few of them will receive help. And I was one of them. When I was growing up, mental health was not talked about, so I assumed my worry-addled mind—which was always focused on the most negative thing—was “normal.” I was in my twenties when I was diagnosed with depression and finally received the appropriate treatment. However, I will never forget how I felt growing up with an unbalanced mind and feeling as though I didn’t fit in.

In contrast, as an educator for 15 years and an assistant principal for 9, I have seen a significant rise in mental health concerns among children within the past couple of years. More kids now are talking about suicide as an option when they feel certain emotions. The bottom line is that, within both the educational setting and at home, we need to educate our youth on their mental health, along with appropriate coping strategies. So, what can we do?

1. Believe mental disorders exist. Mental health disorders such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are thought by some parents or teachers to be “made up.” Just because a person does not look like he or she has a disorder does not mean that he or she isn’t engaged in a mental battle. In the educational world, we need to do a better job of providing training to all staff regarding the characteristics of these disorders and appropriate accommodations. In the rest of the world, we need to recognize that these are real conditions and not make parents feel guilty if their child is battling them. If you are a doubter of these conditions, I encourage you to read about differences between the brains of people with and without a mental health disorder.

2. Give kids an outlet. Listening to kids will give us a better understanding of whether they are struggling with a potential mental disorder. So, we need to monitor their actions and thoughts. If a child is expressing irrational fears or worries, having tantrums and meltdowns that seem out of control for his or her age, reporting difficulty sleeping, and having trouble with social interactions, then these are signs that the child needs additional support. We need to show kids that it is safe for them to share what they are thinking about, whether by talking with an adult or writing down their thoughts in a “dialogue journal.”

3. Balance technology. People are consuming 3 times as much information as they did in 1960. Our children start interacting with screens almost from birth. Students often cannot work on their homework for longer than 2 minutes without distracting themselves with screens. These devices are so engaging that it is hard for adolescents to put them down even at night, which contributes to only 20% of teens getting the appropriate amount of sleep. Increased social networking has even led to “Facebook depression.” More and more of our kids are trying to get their self-worth from these sites instead of learning the “soft skills” of building relationships in person and managing conflict resolution. So, at home and at school, we need to have screen time in moderation. Build in parental controls on devices, have devices put away at least an hour before bedtime, and institute a “device-free” meal time. This includes us adults as well, who also are having difficulty maintaining a healthy balance when it comes to screen time.

In summary, adults should set good examples for children—whether as family members, doctors, or teachers—by discussing mental illness in a nonjudgmental, age-appropriate way and implementing behaviors that allow for healthy sleep, positive interactions, and screen-life balance.

Financial disclosure:Ms Kahan has authored Benny Gator, Angry Ana, and Roadmap to Navigating Your Child’s Disability and has co-authored Navigating the Road of Infertility with her husband; she and her husband have founded King Kahan Publishing, LLC. Learn more about Christine Kahan at www.kingkahan.com, and connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.​

Category: Mental Illness
Link to this post: https://www.psychiatrist.com/blog/monitoring-mental-health-in-our-youth/
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