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Understanding Mental Health In Children

Karyna SItkowski

Understanding Mental Health In Children 

By Karyna Sitkowski


Mental health is important for overall well-being no matter what age. For children, mental health disorders can play a large role in everyday functioning. It can affect the child mentally, emotionally, and behaviorally. The definition of mental health according to the CDC is “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices”. Mental health struggles can affect a child’s ability to carry out daily activities, engage in social interactions, and can impact overall well-being. Mental illness can be caused by a combination of genetic, biological, psychological, and environmental factors. Mental disorders have been on the rise showing more struggles in children in the last few years. The CDC’s most recent statistics on mental illness in children is as follows (2016 -2019):

  • ADHD 9.8% (approximately 6.0 million)
  • Anxiety 9.4% (approximately 5.8 million)
  • Behavior problems 8.9% (approximately 5.5 million)
  • Depression 4.4% (approximately 2.7 million)

.  Look out for signs if you believe your child is struggling with mental health

  • Lack of concentration and motivation: Pay attention to children who are struggling in school and/or is having difficulty enjoying activities.
  • Withdraw: Notice if there is absence from social situations or withdraw from family, friends, or peers from school.
  • Use of alcohol and other drugs - This can include alcohol, marijuana, pills, etc.
  • Dramatic weigh loss: Weight loss changes can occur due to lack of appetite from stressful situations.

Helping a child with mental health issues can be difficult. However, there a few steps that can be taken to better assist someone who may be struggling. ALGEE is an acronym that you can follow to help guide you through difficult situations and to help have open dialog. These steps can be followed in order or in any order that best suits the situation.

A: Assess for risk of suicide or harm: A child who is struggling with mental health may feel hopeless or extremely overwhelmed. They may feel suicide is the only way out. However, not every child who struggles with mental illness will become suicidal. If you have concerns that a child may be thinking of suicide, please reach out to a professional or emergency services immediately.  

L: Listen Non-Judgmentally: If a child is struggling, it is important to engage in a conversation with them. Listening non-judgmentally can make the person feel heard and cared about. Without judgement, it makes it easier for the individual to talk about their feelings openly and ask for help.

G Give Reassurance and Information: It is important to treat the child with respect and dignity. Every situation is unique and must be treated as such. Do not blame the person for the illness because it is not their fault. It is crucial that remind the child that mental health struggles are legitimate medical issues and can be treated. Make sure to give emotional support and understanding towards the child. Emphasize that mental health should be equally important as physical health. Taking further steps could include helping find resources for the child such as a support group or a mental health professional.

E: Encourage appropriate professional help: There are many available options to help your child by taking them to your primary doctor, therapist, social worker, school counselor, or psychiatrist. Do your best to encourage your child to be open to receiving help even though it may be difficult or scary for them. Check with the child and consider their input when it comes to treatment options.

E: Encourage self-help and other support strategies: Encourage the child to use self-help strategies or seek support from friends, family, or others. Self- help strategies could include playing outside, proper nutrition, getting enough sleep, or other curricular activities. 

Early intervention for children is the best way to help a child who is struggling. The most important thing to know that recovery is possible. Recovery in itself can be empowering and looks different for each person. It is important to give the child a safe and open environment to communicate efficiently. Being open about mental health with your child will keep communication lines open for them to express their problems. Ultimately, the most important factor is that recovery can be possible for kids struggling with mental illness. If you or your child are struggling, please utilize the links below.

  • National Suicide Prevention line: The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the United States. Please call 988 if in crisis or need advice with helping someone who is struggling with mental health or suicidal actions or thoughts.

  • Trevor Project: The Trevor Project provides 24/7 crisis support services to LGBTQ young people. Text (678-678), chat online, or call (1-866-488-7386) anytime to reach a trained counselor.


  • NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness): NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m., ET.

Call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), text "HelpLine" to 62640 or email us at Online chat is also available.





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