How to Check on a Child’s Mental Health

An urgent public health crisis. Yes, we’ve had quite a few of those lately. But that is exactly what the U.S. Surgeon General’s office called the state of children’s mental health, starting in 2021.

It’s easy to understand why. The national statistics about mental health in children were getting worse before the pandemic. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced this year that more than one-third (37%) of high school students reported poor mental health in the pandemic and 44% reported that they felt persistently sad or hopeless during 2021.

And it’s not just the teenagers. ADHD, anxiety, behavioral issues and depression are the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children.

1 in 6 children aged 2-8 years has a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder

Bar Chart: Mental disorders by age in years - Depression: 3-5 years: 0.1%26#37;, 6-11 years: 1.7%26#37;, 12-17 years: 6.1%26#37; Anxiety: 3-5 years: 1.3%26#37;, 6-11 years: 6.6%26#37;, 12-17 years: 10.5%26#37; Depression: 3-5 years: 3.4%26#37;, 6-11 years: 9.1%26#37;, 12-17 years: 7.5%26#37;

Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus started the On Our Sleeves campaign to encourage families to talk with children about mental health issues. One aspect of this campaign is Operation: Conversation, an excellent way to start the school year.

Asking the right questions

By asking important questions and listening carefully, parents, grandparents and others can detect the signs of positive mental health as early signs of emotional problems. Some of the conversation starters include:

  • Did you talk to anyone new today?
  • Did anything happen at school today that you weren’t expecting?
  • What’s your favorite song right now. How does it make you feel?
  • What animal do you think is most like you?
  • What made you proud today?
  • How did you cope with hard emotions today?
  • What is a problem you solved today? How did you do it?
  • What do you do when you want to cheer up?
  • When you feel worried, sad or any, what is going through your mind.

The free, expert-developed resources for starting these conversations, talking with kids about mental health and giving advice are found here.

Although the number of problems are going up, most parents do find indicators of positive mental health, such as:

  • Affection
  • Resilience
  • Positivity
  • Curiosity
  • Persistence
  • Self-control

If you hear something that worries you, you are not alone. (Information about early signs of mental illness in children is found here.) Don’t ignore it. Seek help. If you work with reputable people, you can help your child learn techniques for dealing with difficult thoughts. You also may find a brain chemistry issue so early that it can be treated, allowing your child to experience a happier life.

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