Just like that, we are nearly halfway through the school year. For many, this first half has been an exciting and energizing time. For many others, though, this brought on feelings of nervousness, worry and panic. Of course, it’s quite normal for children to feel some level of emotion, but how do we know when children’s mental health is being impacted?
When to seek mental healthcare for a child
According to NPR Ed, up to one in five kids living in the U.S. shows signs or symptoms of a mental health disorder in a given year. And yet most children – nearly 80 percent – who need mental health services won’t get them. It’s no secret that this past year and a half has been challenging in more ways than one. We’ve had to completely change our routines, avoid seeing family members and friends, mask-up, and spend an exorbitant amount of time learning and working through a screen.
So, how do we differentiate between a child who needs mental health treatment and a child who’s just having an “off” day? First, look for recurring patterns or signs that the child is struggling. Are they falling asleep every other day in class? Is an A-student suddenly failing several classes? Are the “social butterflies” of the class suddenly spending a lot of time alone? In addition to behavior, we also want to pay attention to changes in mood. Take time to notice if a child is tearful, angry, or quiet.
Secondly, it is imperative that we ASK. Ask the child what’s going on in their world. What’s causing them to feel upset? How you can help? What is interfering with their ability to learn effectively and get along socially? Children want to feel important. They want to feel heard and listened to, so that’s what our next step needs to be. If they’re willing to talk, we need to be willing to listen.
Communicate a child’s needs
Once you’ve identified that there is in fact a problem, communicate with the other people in the child’s life. Many kids see their teachers even more than their own families during much of the school year. Involve the school counselor, the school psychologist, and any other important adults in the child’s life. A team approach works best when trying to identify various systemic factors that may be contributing to the problem, in addition to solutions that may work to solve it. Gone are the days of “one size fits all.” We need to be open to the idea that each child is unique, thus, learns in an individualized manner. This could be something as simple as moving a child to a new place in the classroom or allowing them to have a fidget in their desk.
However, it’s entirely possible that further intervention is needed for certain students. Much of the national conversation has been inherently reactive, focusing on “crisis response” rather than a systematic approach to helping students with their larger mental health needs. Crisis management is clearly important, but communities must also understand the devastating impact untreated mental illness has on learning.
When to reach out to a professional
Some problems children are facing require a higher level of care. Depression, anxiety, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are some of the most common children’s mental health diagnoses. According to the Child Mind Institute, half of all mental illness occurs before the age of 14, and 75 percent by the age of 24. This highlights the urgent need for early intervention.
According to a 2014 study by the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools, students who receive positive behavioral health interventions see improvements on a range of behaviors related to academic achievement. This includes increased on-task learning behavior, better time management, strengthened goal-setting and problem-solving skills, and decreased rates of absenteeism and suspensions.
Teachers shouldn’t have to do it all
We all know that teachers and educators across the country are already stretched too thin. Seeking out professional supports that can help support the school’s mission are imperative. Psychology Today is a wonderful resource to locate mental health professionals in the area. Many non-profit agencies also offer behavioral health intervention services for a nominal fee. Furthermore, getting your child involved in extracurricular activities is also a great way to increase self-esteem and foster positive relationships.
Medication management can also be an effective treatment option for kids. At Covenant Family Solutions, we have a team of Mental Health Nurse Practitioners that can assess and prescribe medications to help with your children’s mental health.
It’s not easy. The problems we’re facing in our world today continue to worsen. But, as the old adage goes, raising children takes a village. I, for one, am happy to be a part of it.
This blog originally appeared in The Lighthouse, an affiliate publication of the Clear Creek Amana School District.