Mental health is a struggle for all ages, and no one likes to see kids struggle in this area.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC had this to say about children’s mental health:
It is estimated that as many as 1 out of 5 children experience a mental disorder in a given year, and an estimated $247 billion is spent each year on treatment and management of childhood mental disorders.
Elsewhere, the CDC says:
Beginning in April 2020, the proportion of children’s mental health–related ED [Emergency Department] visits among all pediatric ED visits increased and remained elevated through October. Compared with 2019, the proportion of mental health–related visits for children aged 5–11 and 12–17 years increased approximately 24% and 31%, respectively.
Suicide and self-harm affect all ages
Unicef says the following:
According to the latest available estimates, more than 1 in 7 adolescents aged 10–19 is estimated to live with a diagnosed mental disorder globally. Almost 46,000 adolescents die from suicide each year, among the top five causes of death for their age group.
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center reports the following:
In 2020, suicide was the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 14, and adults ages 25 to 34. Suicide was the third leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24, the fourth leading cause of death for ages 35 to 44, and the seventh leading cause of death for ages 55 to 64.
The CDC reports:
Youth and young adults ages 10–24 years account for 14% of all suicides. The suicide rate for this age group (10.5 per 100,000) was lower than other age groups. However, suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people, accounting for 6,643 deaths. For youth ages 10-14, suicide is the second leading cause of death … Youth and young adults aged 10-24 have lower suicide rates, but they have higher 2019 rates of emergency department (ED) visits for self-harm (342.5 per 100,000) compared to people ages 25 years and older (121.9 per 100,000).
These are sobering statistics, and it’s far too easy to find more just like them. Why are children and young adults struggling with mental health? Just like with physical health, there isn’t necessarily one singular right answer. There are also situations that, even if they don’t cause mental health problems, they add to the body’s stress. This can make the mental health challenges worse or more likely. The good news is these situations are simple to address even if they’re not an overnight fix.
Technology and Its Effects on Mental Health
Technology has made the world smaller. In certain ways, this is good. People can find help much easier in the forms of online consulting, GPS, and educational YouTube channels and videos. In the same way it can beneficially connect people, it can also connect people in ways that aren’t beneficial. There are people that glorify mental health struggles, suicide, self-harm, or other self-sabotaging beliefs and actions. If someone is already struggling in an area, the last thing they need is for it to be easy to connect with someone who glorifies or romanticizes it, making those self-sabotaging actions seem desirable. The barrier to entry to find these people and other things children aren’t ready for lowers considerably when technology like the internet is brought into play. Movies, TV shows, games, or ads on sites they frequent can introduce children to ideas and situations much earlier than is advised.
Aside from what technology enables children to access, its very use can be something parents will want to monitor. From worsening eyesight to depression, cancer, and problems sleeping, too much artificial blue light is detrimental to health. Because children’s eyes absorb fewer short-length lights than adults’, they are more affected by blue light. Instead of artificial blue light from a screen, encourage your child to get outside and absorb the sun’s light as well as vitamin D. Getting outside and into the sun for several minutes a day has numerous health benefits, and it encourages them to exercise their own imagination.
Be Careful of What You Let in
Childhood is important in our development as humans. It’s a time that, once we pass through it, we’ll never get back. Yet, so often, we rush ahead to the older, ‘easier’ years without stopping to appreciate the gift of the intervening time.
We each have a certain level of stress we can handle; physical, mental, or chemical. That level of stress affects our lives and bodies. A child’s threshold is lower than that of an adult due to the simple fact that they’re a child. As mentioned above, technology has shrunk the world. It has also made it easier for this stress threshold to be met. How long does it take you as an adult to get stressed after you pick up your phone?
This is also why it’s important to be careful with the type of entertainment we allow our children to take in. If an adult theme is introduced in a book or movie that a child isn’t ready for, or in a way that doesn’t convey the depth of the situation, that’s how they’ll look at it going forward. If the first opinion a child sees of an adult stressed to the point of a breakdown is painted in the story as though it’s normal, that’s how they’ll view it. If depression or an eating disorder is romanticized or glorified, that’ll set the tone in their mind. Make sure that your child’s entertainment isn’t working against them.
Be Aware of Other Sources of Stress
The recent quarantines and the panic around COVID have also had an impact on our kids to their detriment. Solitary confinement is used in prisons and has been recognized by the Journal of American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law to be:
…difficult to withstand; indeed, psychological stressors such as isolation can be as clinically distressing as physical torture.
There have been debates about whether it’s too inhumane to be used in prisons. Yet, our children went through a similar situation for some of the most developmentally important years of their life. Lockdowns and COVID affected all of our stress and mental situations, no less so for our children.
Get on Their Level
Get into your child’s world; show an interest in what they’re struggling with. If another child was mean to them or made them upset, don’t wave it off as nothing, just because it may seem to be a petty, childish quarrel. If another child diminished their interests or dreams, take that seriously–because it is for them, and you never know what’ll plant a seed. Talk to your child about their emotions and where their mind is–in the good ways and the bad–no matter what age they are. Negative words in our head often lose power when spoken aloud, positive ones often gain power, especially when spoken by someone we love and trust.
Help Guard Their Minds
We only get one mind, in this life. Once it learns something, we can’t unlearn it. Your child is your responsibility. You don’t have to be their friend to be their parent, although you can still have plenty of fun, and that is encouraged! Know what sites they’re visiting when they’re online, what games they’re playing with their friends. Limit screentime and negative influences. Preview their books and movies before they read or watch them. If a book or movie does bring up a hard topic, watch or read that story with your child and have discussions about the issue as it’s introduced. Or, have a discussion about the issue before they read the book or watch the movie so you can choose the seed that gets planted. It beats needing to pull out a thought process that has taken root, later.
Reduce The Stress in Their System
There are three kinds of stressors the body deals with: physical, mental, and chemical.
Physical stressors are things like broken bones and strained muscles. The body works like a finely-tuned Swiss watch. When a gear is out of calibration, it affects the rest of the watch. To reduce this kind of stress, you need to get the watch back into calibration; the body needs to heal and return to its proper alignment. A great way to do this is to get adjusted by a chiropractor that knows how a body is supposed to work together.
Mental stressors are what we normally think of when we say ‘stress.’ Friend issues, money problems, upcoming deadlines, everything that distracts your mind in a way that isn’t helpful. To help your child with mental stress, show them the benefits of a gratitude habit. Setting appointments with a therapist can also help with this kind of stress, as can simply getting around other people. One of the reasons solitary confinement is so hard on people is that humans are very social creatures. We need other people. Children’s immune systems are strong and resilient. Don’t stint the way their minds grow for fear of something they’re the best at fighting off.
Chemical stress comes from reactions or imbalances in the body. Allergic reactions, hormone imbalances, toxins affecting how your body works. Change from plastic foodware to stainless steel or glass. Cut processed sugar, dairy, food allergies, GMOs, the dirty dozen, and dyes from your child’s diet. Check your cleaning supplies, hair products, air, water, and lotions for toxins.
Get Your Child Outside
You don’t have to look far to find the benefits of sunlight and fresh air. Spending even fifteen minutes a day outside will help your child mentally and physically. Play, too, is important to a child’s learning and development.
Healthline says it this way:
Play is one of the most important aspects of a child’s life. Why? Because through peekaboo, patty-cake, and playing house, children learn to think creatively and interact socially.
Through play, they develop physically and discover a slew of emotional skills, and they learn how to process the world. In short, play is pivotal to your child’s development. … What’s more, according to a 2012 study, play reduces stress. ‘On the whole, play is associated with responses that facilitate learning… [and] work off stress,’ says Jumaily.
Turn off the screens and play outside with your child.
Mental health is just as important as physical health. To get your child’s allergies tested or to get adjusted, contact a Wellness Way clinic today!