When it comes to child and adolescent mental health, the line between typical developmental behaviors and those that require professional help can be difficult to discern—even in the best of times. What should family caregivers be aware of to help them provide the right support and treatment for their child with mental health issues?
Acknowledging children’s mental health as an issue is an important first step.
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Consider that 50 percent of all lifetime mental illness develops by age 14. According to the Surgeon General’s 2021 advisory on youth mental health, up to 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 struggled with a reported mental, emotional, developmental or behavioral disorder. Additionally, approximately half of the 7.7 million children with a treatable mental health disorder did not receive adequate treatment.1 This is due to many factors, including a lack of knowledge and access to mental health and substance use disorder services and the stigma associated with getting care.
If left untreated, mental health and behavioral disorders will interfere with a child’s daily functioning and can lead to life-long problems, such as academic underperformance, alcohol and/or drug use, family conflict, or other self-destructive behaviors, even including suicide. Furthermore, mental health problems that are not addressed early on may result in more intensive and costly care later in life.
“Families and caregivers play a critical role in providing the safe, stable, and nurturing environments and relationships young people need to thrive.” —U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory
A few recommendations for how families and caregivers can address mental health challenges:
- Be the best role model you can be for young people by taking care of your own mental and physical health.
- Help children and youth develop strong, safe, and stable relationships with you and other supportive adults.
- Encourage children and youth to build healthy social relationships with peers.
- Do your best to provide children and youth with a supportive, stable, and predictable home and neighborhood environment.
- Try to minimize negative influences and behaviors in young people’s lives.
Ensure children and youth have regular check-ups with a pediatrician, family doctor, or other healthcare professional.