By Kelly McClarnon, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.
Since I began working in a school setting, I’ve noticed increasing rates of mental health concerns among adolescents. It’s not just my personal experience; a quick Google search will pull multiple articles about a “mental health crisis” within this population.
There are many factors that contribute to the rise in mental health problems, but none are exclusively to blame. Some of the identified reasons are decreases in hours of sleep, decreased activity levels, and fewer face-to-face interactions. Other factors include an increase in academic and sports performance expectations, cyberbullying, higher rates of exposure to violence, barriers to mental health care, and even the chemicals in the food we eat.
Studies show that since 2010, mental health issues in adolescents have been steadily rising, and organizations such as WHO (World Health Organization) and NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) are researching ways to address these issues. These community mental health concerns need to be addressed on a macro level, but there are steps individuals and families can take to support their child’s mental and emotional well-being.
If your child had a broken leg, you would take them to the doctor and follow the prescribed treatment to heal the break. If a child is struggling mentally or emotionally, the first step I generally recommend to parents is to start having conversations that provide a safe and judgement-free space for their child to open up and talk about their concerns.
Restricting the number of activities your child is involved with outside the home can provide the necessary time to have important conversations regarding mental health and well-being. Children need down time to recover and relax from their day. They need to have quiet activities they enjoy at home such as drawing, reading, playing with their pets, and spending time with loved ones.
Encourage healthy technology habits by limiting screen time and monitoring online content. Overuse of technology for many reasons has contributed to rising rates of mental health problems among adolescents. This is an easy fix as long as parents stay consistent and intentional about overseeing screen time.
Encourage good sleep hygiene. Not getting enough sleep can affect a person’s mood, memory, and executive functioning. Sleep is an important factor in maintaining good mental health.
Make sure your child is eating a balanced diet and getting enough exercise. Taking care of their physical health is important for promoting positive mental health.
Lastly, if you feel you’ve taken steps at home to support your child and things are not improving, start by talking with their pediatrician, who can provide referrals for counseling and/or medication management. You can also seek support from mental health professionals, like a Youth First Social Worker at your child’s school, to provide direction in getting mental health treatment.
Just as you would care for a physical illness, mental health problems should be addressed. The earlier the intervention, the better the outcome.