When is the right time to begin caring for a child’s mental health? As she heads off to college? During his high school years? As early as elementary school?
The fact is, the foundations of good mental health are laid in the womb, just like the foundations of physical health, and mental health needs to be intentionally and consistently cared for from early childhood all the way through adulthood. Too often, though, the mental health needs of children are underestimated and overlooked.
Children’s mental health problems are real and common. Twenty percent of youth – almost 18 million children! – have a diagnosable mental health problem. As with other health conditions, though, early intervention can reduce the length, severity, and impact of mental health disorders, and even make full recovery a possibility.
Just like our physical wellness, our mental wellness varies week to week along a continuum. Some mental health challenges are temporary, the way a broken wrist might be, while other more permanent psychological conditions can be treated and managed, just like diabetes or high blood pressure. Armed with knowledge, support, and tools, parents can be at the forefront of solutions for their children, rather than picking up the pieces.
But parents are missing that critical information and support structure. Although half of all lifetime cases of mental health disorders emerge before the age of 14 years old, and 74% before the age of 24, nearly two-thirds of children with diagnosable mental health conditions get little or no help for their illnesses. When a child shows symptoms of a physical illness, like a sore throat or an ear infection, parents know how to find help. But when children struggle with emotional, mental, or behavioral health problems, parents feel isolated and uncertain about where to turn for the resources they need, often with devastating consequences.
Those seeking mental health treatment must navigate a fragmented and costly system full of obstacles. Barriers include high rates of denials of care by insurers, high out-of-pocket costs for mental health care, difficulties accessing psychiatric medications, and problems finding psychiatrists and other mental health providers in health insurance networks, and more. And the children pay the price. The second leading cause of death among youth age 10 to 24 is suicide. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Driven by the belief that every child’s mental well-being needs to be nurtured, and that mental wellness and physical wellness should be equally prioritized, The Youth Mental Health Project educates, empowers, and supports families and communities to better understand and care for the social, emotional, mental, and behavioral health of youth. Our goal is to normalize conversations about mental health, reduce the stigma, and help families get the care they need when they need it.
Our programming focuses on two main areas:
- Educational resources, tools, and events that improve mental health literacy in individuals and communities, and
- The Parent Support Network, an incredibly successful program that provides parents with free and confidential peer to peer support, both virtually and in their own communities.
And, it works. In the words of one parent who took advantage of our Support Network, “I feel for the first time in a long time we have a new focus and are headed in the right direction and hopefully gaining a little control over this out-of-control situation.”
By encouraging and equipping individuals and communities to have open, honest dialogue about youth mental health, we are building a world where no child or family will suffer the consequences of undiagnosed or untreated mental health conditions and where the stigma around mental health will become as much a thing of the past.
Share: Follow and like The Youth Mental Health Project on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok, and You Tube. Share your own experiences whenever you can. Share our posts and tag us. @ymhproject #WeAllHaveMentalHealth #LetsTalk #CMHAW21
Educate: COVID-19 has caused a dramatic increase in mental health struggles among children and parents need to be talking about it. Arrange for a mental health presentation in your school or screen our multiple-award-winning film No Letting Go for your community. Start a conversation.
Invest: The Youth Mental Health Project provides free support and resources to parents and families whose children are struggling with their mental health and the need is growing.
Ask for help: Reach out if you or a loved one needs assistance and encourage your children to do the same. Use our Parent Support Network. Don’t wait – get help today.
By investing in mental health solutions and supports for families today, we will prepare our youth to succeed and thrive in this complex world.
Original contribution by Barbara Weinstein, Director of Communications and Partnerships at The Youth Mental Health Project.