There are many important discussions that parents should have with their children at various stages of their development. One topic that receives far too little attention due to its difficult and somewhat taboo subject matter is mental illness, which is affecting children in greater numbers than ever before.
Dr. La’Tesha Sampson, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the CEO and Founder of Great Joy Counseling and Consulting Services, says that rates of depression and mental illness among children and teens are at an all-time high, some of which is being driven by excessive screen time and social media use.
This is especially true in the age of coronavirus, as today’s youth have had to adapt to stay at home orders and government mandates. With nowhere to go and little to do, the pandemic has exacerbated screen time concerns, which was already at worrying levels and which have been shown to contribute to negative mental health outcomes.
The dialogue about mental illness needs to start early says Dr. Sampson, who says that not enough young people are receiving the help they need to tackle their mental health issues, noting that suicide has become the third-leading cause of death among the 15–24 age bracket.
Understanding Mental Health
Any discussion about mental health with your children should begin by stressing that mental illnesses are nothing to be feared or ashamed of, nor are they abnormal. It’s important to emphasize that more individuals will experience at least one form of mental illness in their lifetime than those that won’t.
Dr. La’Tesha Sampson recommends discussing some of the most prevalent conditions (such as depression and anxiety) and highlighting some of the symptoms that commonly indicate the presence of one of these conditions (including social withdrawal, low energy, emotional outbursts, and addiction issues) so children can take some measure of control in monitoring their own mental states.
Empowering Children to Take Control Over their Mental Well-Being
Furthermore, you can empower your children to take greater control over their mental health by encouraging them to take proper care of themselves. Detail the important role that exercise and healthy eating can play on mental health, including the connection between certain vitamin deficiencies (especially zinc, B-6, B-12, D-3, folate, and the Omega 3 fatty acids) and some mental health conditions. With any luck, doing so may provide them with just enough incentive to make healthier decisions later on.
And of course, you’ll need to have that difficult screen time conversation with them, pointing out to them that even a couple hours of TV a day has been shown to lower kids’ self esteem and negatively impact their school performance.
Lastly, La’Tesha Sampson encourages addressing the term mental illness itself, which could also cause stigmatization among kids, implying that there is something wrong with them that needs to be fixed. Instead of a sickness, equate it instead with simply being a different mental state that may not be “normal”, but which doesn’t likewise imply “deficient” or “broken”.
This will be particularly important to address when it comes to kids with autism or other lifelong disorders, who may feel especially vulnerable to the use of that term.
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Written by: Dr. La'Tesha Sampson