Talking about mental health to show support and reduce the stigma surrounding it is on the rise among all communities as of late due to mass shootings, natural disasters, and countless other headline-grabbing events that affect our ability to function amongst our daily routines.
Mental health does not discriminate, everyone is at risk. Both children and adults suffer from a variety of disorders that can affect performance at work or school, interpersonal relationships with friends and family and so much more. Children rely on guidance and support from teachers and parents. This article will focus on recognizing the symptoms and what to do about it.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports 31.9% of young people ages 13-18 have an anxiety disorder such as generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, and/or panic disorder. The median onset age for social anxiety is age 13, right when puberty hits and all our hormones are sent into overdrive. Though the median onset age for depression is 31, it is also very prevalent in youth. Anxiety can mimic depression; some symptoms can be interchangeable.
Mental Health America reports that Wisconsin is rated 26 out of 51 for youth with mental illness. States with high rankings have lower prevalence of mental illness and higher rates of access to care for youth.
According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. African Americans are also more likely to experience certain factors that increase the risk for developing a mental health condition, including homelessness and exposure to violence.
Being prepared as parents, educators, and any other role in which we may influence a child’s life is crucial to cultivating their healthy development.
Recognize The Warning Signs
- Having trouble with schoolwork
- Overreaction to criticism
- Not participating in activities once enjoyed
- Lack of enthusiasm or motivation
- Anger and rage
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Feelings of being unable to meet expectations
- Poor self-esteem or guilt
- Problems with making decisions, lack of concentration or forgetfulness
- Restlessness and agitation
- Rebelling against parents, teachers, or other authority figures
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
What you say to your children matters. Letting them know you are there for them in times of struggle may be exactly what they need to feel worthy of love. Be aware and mindful of the conversations you have in front of them. Whether it’s fully comprehended or not, they will remember the words and the tone of everything that happens before them. If we model love and respect, they will feel safe enough to reach out when they need help. Additionally, a budding intervention for children’s mental health is mindfulness.
The word mindfulness is everywhere and what it really means is teaching our minds to recognize what our bodies and brains are doing when we feel overwhelmed so we can prepare and nourish ourselves when those triggers show up again. This is so special because it doesn’t involve medication and it is simple enough for children to grasp. Mindfulness can involve many activities including meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises.
Mind, Body & Spirit Though Youth Yoga
Aaron Perry, CEO and founder of the Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association in Madison, is doing his part in helping the Black and brown boys have access to a place where these interventions are offered and encouraged. Perry, who also offers the sessions to men of color, says he works primarily with middle school boys.
“Their brains are like sponges and it really creates an opportunity to mentor them from middle school to high school,” Perry said. “This is personal for me. I had a mentor who came into my life and guided me especially in times where I was lost.”
Perry has been paying it forward.
He created the Black men and Black Boys & Yoga Mats classes to focus on the mental, spiritual and physical health of them.
“We believe in the ability to engage these young men and alter the course,” said Perry. “Building this healthy brotherhood so they look out for another as opposed to harm one another.”
He said the effect his classes have on these young men are already apparent.
“You can clearly see the determination and focus to maintain poses and to engage. Even some of the parents are saying, ‘my kid sleeps so well after your class,’” Perry added.
Parents can help by finding programs like these for their children that may be struggling emotionally and take that extra step by engaging in their mindfulness activities alongside them, offer to do counted breathing and isolated muscle tense and release exercises. This may also help you relieve some stress!
Room to Breathe
Not only can parents have a hand in helping our youth conquer their mental health struggles, teachers and other educational professionals can affect change as well. Mindful Moment Rooms are popping up in elementary, middle and high schools around the country. When students become disruptive, instead of sending them to detention, they are sent to these special oases to calm down by sitting cross-legged on the floor, eyes closed and breathing deeply.
Bonneka Seals, CEO and owner of A New Breath(e) of Life Counseling & Consulting, LLC in Milwaukee is a proponent of schools adopting mindfulness programs because it helps to boost focus and lower stress level in students. She suggests teachers begin by having a “mindfulness toolbox”.
“Mindfulness is great,” said Seals, who is a licensed psychotherapist, substance abuse counselor and adjunct professor, among others. “Teachers that adapt to this, whether it’s a corner or a different room, have better success rates. Kids are actually better to identify and redirect themselves to get back on task. Children don’t learn from punishment all the time, practicing mindfulness allows them to turn it into something positive, which is ultimately what we want as adults.”
For some teens, having help right at their fingertips using cellphone apps is a growing trend to get immediate mental health relief. A Google search reveals over 25 therapy-style apps including Calm, Headspace, Moodpath, Happify and NOCD.
There are many local resources working to end the stigma of mental health and fighting to make sure all have access. They are just a phone call or office visit away. If you or someone you know is struggling emotionally, reach out to one of the many here in Madison including, Briarpatch Youth Services, NAMI Dane County, Journey Mental Health Center, and RISE Wisconsin.