Children’s Mental Health Matters
Just as you can help prevent a child from catching a cold or breaking a bone, we can help prevent a child from having mental health problems. We know what it takes to keep a child physically healthy—nutritious food, exercise, immunizations - but the basics for good mental health aren’t always as clear. The first “basic” is to know that children’s mental health matters. We need to treat a child’s mental health just like we do their physical health, by giving it thought and attention and, when needed, professional help.
Mental Health Promotion
Promoting a child’s mental health means helping a child feel secure, relate well with others and foster their growth at home and at school. We do this by helping to build a child’s confidence and competence - the foundation of strong self-esteem. This can be achieved by providing a child with a safe and secure home; warmth and love; respect; caring and trusting relationships with family, friends, and adults in the community; opportunities to talk about experiences and feelings; time to play, learn, and succeed; encouragement and praise; and consistent and fair expectations with clear consequences for misbehavior.
Know the Signs
If there is concern that a child may be experiencing a mental health problem, it is important for adults to seek help from a doctor or mental health professional. Just like with physical illness, treating mental health problems early may help to prevent a more serious illness from developing in the future. Consider consulting a professional if a child you know:
- Feels very sad, hopeless or irritable
- Feels overly anxious or worried
- Is scared and fearful; has frequent nightmares
- Is excessively angry
- Uses alcohol or drugs
- Avoids people; wants to be alone all of the time
- Hears voices or sees things that aren’t there
- Can’t concentrate, sit still, or focus attention
- Needs to wash, clean things, or perform certain rituals many times a day
- Talks about suicide or death
- Hurts other people or animals; or damages property
- Has major changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Loses interest in friends or things usually enjoyed
- Falls behind in school or earns lower grades
Unsure? Try A Mental Health Screen.
Taking a mental health screening is one of the quickest and easiest ways to determine whether you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition.
- The Parent Test is for parents of young people to determine if their child’s emotions, attention, or behaviors might be signs of a problem.
- The Youth Test is for young people (age 11-17) who are concerned that their emotions, attention, or behaviors might be signs of a problem.
What Parents Can Do
- Care for your children’s mental health just as you do for their physical health.
- Pay attention to warning signs, and if you’re concerned there might be a problem seek professional help.
- Let your children know that everyone experiences pain, fear, sadness, worry, and anger and that these emotions are a normal part of life; encourage them to talk about their concerns and to express their emotions.
- Be a role model—talk about your own feelings, apologize, don’t express anger with violence, and use active problem-solving skills.
- Encourage your children’s talents and skills, while also accepting their limitations. Celebrate your children’s accomplishments.
- Give your children opportunities to learn and grow, including being involved in their school and community and with other caring adults and friends.
- Think of “discipline” as a form of teaching, rather than as physical punishment; set clear expectations and be consistent and fair with consequences for misbehavior; make sure to acknowledge both positive and negative behaviors.
What Teachers Can Do
- Think about mental health as an important component of a child being “ready to learn;” if a child is experiencing mental health problems, he or she will likely have trouble focusing in school.
- Know the warning signs of mental illness and take note of these in your students and seek consultation from the school mental health professional when you have concerns; psychological and/or educational testing may be necessary.
- Use the mental health professional(s) at your school as resources for: preventive interventions with students, including social skills training; education for teachers and students on mental health, crisis counseling for teachers and students following a traumatic event, and classroom management skills training for teachers.
- Allow your students to discuss troubling events at school or in the community; encourage students to verbally describe their emotions.
What Doctors Can Do
- Recognize that mental health is part of a child’s overall health.
- Be informed about mental health issues in children and know the warning signs of mental illness.
- Become familiar with mental health screening tools. Use these when a “red flag” is raised or routinely screen for illness, asking both children and parents about a child’s emotions and behaviors—especially substance use, depression symptoms, school performance, and talk of suicide.
- Be familiar with the most effective pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic treatment options.
- Make referrals for mental health care when appropriate and follow-up with parents after a referral is made.
What Children’s Behavioral Health Services Can Do
- Assist youth and families in identifying helpful supports and services.
- Collaborate with youth, families and other stakeholders to ensure services are accessible
- Provide access to supportive and helpful resources focused on children’s mental health
Maine Alliance of Family Organizations(MAFO)
Maine Alliance of Family Organizations (MAFO) is a statewide alliance that formed to better serve families of children with disabilities and special health care needs, and to strengthen family voice. More information can be found here.