Understanding and Supporting Children’s Mental Health

"Understanding the Supporting Children's Mental Health" text overlaid over a photo of an adults hands cupping a child's hands. The child's hands are holding a green ribbon for Mental Health Awareness

May 7, 2022, is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. This is a day dedicated to opening the discussion around children’s mental health and reducing its stigma.

Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is an opportunity for everyone involved with children and adolescents’ lives—including the child themselves—to learn more about mental health issues and how they can be addressed by parents, teachers, extended family members, doctors, and other health professionals.

Children have mental health struggles, too.

It’s important to understand mental health and its effects, especially if you care for a child or teenager. Mental health isn’t just about feeling sad or anxious sometimes—it’s about your overall well-being, including how you handle stress and make decisions in life.

Mental health affects every aspect of your life:

  • Your relationships with family members and friends
  • How well you do in school or work
  • How active or healthy you are

1 in 5 children and adolescents experience a mental disorder at any given time.

As children grow up, it’s common to experience anxiety, stress, and depression. But when these feelings become overwhelming or last for a long time, they can interfere with daily life and make it difficult to enjoy or succeed at school or work.

Mental health problems are common in children and adolescents, but many parents aren’t sure what to do. While this can feel overwhelming, there is hope for recovery and improving your child’s quality of life with acknowledgment and understanding. Parents need to know that these problems are not a sign of weakness or a character flaw—and they can be treated!

If your child struggles with mental health issues, you want to help them get the care they need. Here are some tips on how to support your child’s mental health:

  • Talk openly and honestly about mental health issues, so your kids know it’s OK to talk about them, too — even if it’s hard for both of you at first. Be honest with your child about what you see and hear in the news or on social media. This shows them that it’s okay to talk about these things. Remember that everyone has ups and downs sometimes; having trouble isn’t something shameful or wrong!
  • Encourage open communication with your child about their feelings and emotions. This will help them feel safe expressing themselves and have a sense of control over their reactions to situations. Let them know that it’s okay if they don’t want to talk about what’s bothering them right away — but they should know that you’re there if they ever want to open up about it.
  • Listen carefully when your child speaks, without interrupting or judging them harshly. Listening without judgment means that you won’t tell your child what you think they should feel or how they should deal with their feelings. Instead, let them know that you’re there for them if they want to talk about what’s going on in their lives — and be ready to listen without jumping in with advice or trying to solve their problems for them (unless they ask).
  • Encourage healthy habits like eating well, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep each night. Help them seek out activities that make them feel good, such as playing sports or doing arts and crafts.
  • Recognize warning signs for other problems like substance use or eating disorders — which often co-occur with anxiety or depression — so you can get help for your child sooner rather than later.

Nearly 80% of kids who need treatment for mental disorders don’t receive it.

While it’s true that most children and teens with mental health issues will find their way to treatment eventually, the unfortunate reality is that many families don’t have access to affordable mental health services. As a result, more than half of all children who need treatment do not receive it.

The reasons for this are numerous. Some parents may not know what resources are available or how to access them; others may feel uncomfortable discussing their child’s problems with a professional; still, others might be concerned about the stigma associated with mental illness in general. Whatever the case may be, if you’re worried about your child’s mental health but aren’t sure where or how to start looking for help, here are some steps you can take:

Talk to your child.

Many young people don’t always know why they feel the way they do or what may be causing it. Encourage them to talk about what’s worrying them and how they feel so that you can better understand what’s going on for them. Here are some tips for how to start the conversation:

  • Be open and honest. Children tend to pick up on their parents’ emotions, so if they think something is wrong, they’ll be more likely to talk about it if they can trust you.
  • Use open-ended questions. Instead of asking yes or no questions, use phrases like “What do you think?” or “How do you feel?” This will help your child feel like they have some control over what happens next.
  • Don’t judge or lecture. Don’t tell your child how their feelings are wrong or that there’s something wrong with them because of them. This will only make them feel worse about themselves and more reluctant about opening up in the future.

Talk with people close to your child.

Check in with other people—such as teachers, family members, and friends—who know your child well to see if they have noticed different behavior or if they have concerns, too.

Consider speaking to your child’s doctor.

Their doctor will want to know how long you’ve been concerned, how often it happens, and what triggers it. They’ll also want to know if there are any other problems in your family, such as money worries or relationship issues. They may refer you and your child to a mental health professional like a psychologist or psychiatrist who can assess whether the problem is likely ongoing or transient and what treatment would be most effective.

Destigmatizing Mental Health

Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is an international event designed to raise awareness of mental health in children and young people by educating the public on how mental health affects everyone.

This includes highlighting that it’s normal for anyone – including children – to experience stress or emotional difficulties from time to time.

Whether you are a parent, work with children, or are interested in supporting the mental wellbeing of children, there is something for everyone on CMHA Day. From spotting the signs to learning how you can support and help those experiencing distress, participating in Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is a great way to contribute and share that it’s okay not to be okay.