National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day

Today is National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day, which is hosted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). I think many people don't often consider the state of children's mental health. I know when I think of "mental health problems" I usually tend to picture adults, not children. Mental health issues are a serious problem for children and young adults, too. Some reports cite that as many as 50% of patients who experience anxiety or mood disorders, describe an onset of symptoms by age 14. For more great information and myth-busting about young children and mental health see Lisa's post at Regarding Baby.

This year's theme for awareness day focuses on building resilience for young children dealing with trauma. Although they may not seem aware of it, children as young as 18 months old who experience traumatic events can go on to have later behavioral and psychological problems as a result. Most of us do not like to think about our children experiencing anything traumatic, but it is more common than you might think. Consider this statistic from the SAMHSA:

In 2009, researchers found that more than 60 percent of youth age 17 and younger have been exposed to crime, violence, and abuse either directly or indirectly including witnessing a violent act, assault with a weapon, sexual victimization, child maltreatment, and dating violence. Nearly 10 percent were injured during the exposure to violence, 10 percent were exposed to maltreatment by caretaker, and 6 percent were a victim of sexual assault.

This exposure to violence is hard to think about, but traumatic events can also be of a less violent nature as well. We never know when events like the death of a loved one or a natural disaster may shake our children's feelings of safety and well-being. It is helpful to know what to look for in your child to know if events such as these are negatively impacting their psychological well-being and development. Child development specialists suggest being aware of the following behaviors if a child you know has recently experienced a traumatic event:
  • Separation anxiety or clinginess toward teachers or caregivers
  • Changes in appetite
  • Decreased interest in and/or withdrawal from friends or family and normal activities
  • Over- or under-reaction to physical contact, sudden movements, and sounds
  • Angry outbursts and/or aggression
  • More frequent complaints of headaches, stomachaches, or fatigue
  • Repeatedly recreating the event through comments, drawings, or activity
  • Emotional “numbing,” or expressing no feelings at all about the event
If handled with care and support, children can be quite resilient in the face of adversity, but adults need to be aware that children often process these events differently than adults. Here are some other useful tips and suggestions for helping children be resilient.

We will all face some type of adversity in our lives and so I think these tips for learning how to be resilient are helpful for all of us at almost any age. Children, however, are particularly vulnerable to traumatic experiences and therefore this day is especially important to shed light on their needs and what we, as adults, can do to help them.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminder, Amy; I hadn't known about this cause. We're learning so much about just what events children process as 'trauma' -- so much that seems innocuous just isn't.

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