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How parents can support children's mental health

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How parents can support children's mental health
April 08, 2024
Mia Wallace - LA Post

A sobering reality surfaces - one in every five young individuals grapple with mental health or learning challenges severe enough for clinical diagnosis. This revelation has sparked the Child Mind Institute's "Dare to Share" initiative, rallying renowned figures to recount personal journeys, shattering stigmas surrounding youth mental health, and empowering youth to seek solace.

Acclaimed artist Pink candidly unveiled her battles with panic attacks, imparting reassurance that "radiant moments await, for the fears that grip you now shall ultimately subside." Olympic athlete Gus Kenworthy laid bare his daily confrontation with depression, underscoring the availability of aid and resources for those treading similar paths. Maisie Williams, the renowned actor, has publicly expressed how vocalizing her difficulties may be a powerful remedy, helping her to process intense emotions and bring them under control.

Mental health professionals emphasize the profound impact of such high-profile disclosures, potentially paving the way for youth to pursue assistance. Jamie Howard, a senior psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, explains, "Stigma remains a formidable barrier to care. When esteemed personalities we admire and respect shed light on their own struggles, it fosters a sense of acceptance—an affirmation that seeking support is a courageous act, not a source of shame."

The pivotal period for parental vigilance spans childhood through early adulthood, as the intricate tapestry of the human brain continues its intricate weaving until approximately the age of 24. Alarmingly, half of all mental health afflictions take root before the tender age of 14, and a staggering three-quarters manifest before the transition into adulthood at 24. Howard elucidates this phenomenon through the lens of the stress diathesis model, positing that individuals predisposed to mental health challenges may exhibit symptoms earlier in life, shaped by their unique environmental influences.

While nurturing resilience is a paramount aspiration for parents, discerning when a child's struggles transcend temporary setbacks and necessitate intervention can be intricate. Howard counsels continuous monitoring of children's demeanor and functionality, cautioning that persistent melancholy disengagement from once-cherished pursuits for a span of two weeks or longer may signify a depressive episode rather than a fleeting obstacle.

Effective dialogue is paramount in addressing mental health concerns with youth. Howard advocates posing open-ended inquiries and fostering an atmosphere of genuine curiosity untainted by presuppositions. "Children possess an innate capacity to surprise us," she imparts. She recommends that parents articulate their observations with empathy and earnestness, such as, "I've noticed you've distanced yourself from your friends lately," or "Your academic performance seems to have faltered," before delving into the underlying reasons.

Howard underscores the pivotal role of sustained discourse from an early age for those youth and parents grappling with initiating dialogues about mental wellness. "If we cultivate a tradition of open communication with children from their formative years, opportunities for understanding and support naturally emerge," she elucidates, alleviating the burden on youth to self-identify their struggles.

Confronting the delicate subject of suicide, a leading cause of mortality among youth aged 15 to 19, Howard advises parents to embrace forthrightness and not shy away from explicit language. She reassures that broaching the topic with a non-suicidal individual will not plant seeds of ideation but rather provide a conduit for those grappling with mental health challenges to acknowledge their plight and seek assistance.

While some may question whether children would respond with candor to such direct inquiries, Howard believes many would welcome the opportunity to alleviate their distress. "Often, we simply lack the knowledge of how to articulate our anguish," she illuminates, underscoring the criticality of open and compassionate communication.

As this campaign gains momentum, it stands as a poignant reminder that mental health afflictions among youth constitute a silent epidemic demanding attention, understanding, and decisive action. By fostering open discourse, eroding stigmas, and providing accessible resources, we can forge a supportive ecosystem where no child's struggle goes unheard or unaided.

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