In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) joined together to declare a National State of Emergency in Children’s Mental Health.
Think about that for a moment. A National State of Emergency is primarily used in situations when there is a clear need for additional visibility and resources in order to save lives and protect citizens, such as natural disasters. By acknowledging the mental health crisis impacting children today, this group of health care providers and experts recognize the need to elevate this concern in our national consciousness in order to pay attention to our children and their overall well being.
Understanding the mental health wellness of children requires an appreciation of the overall state of a child’s thoughts and feelings; their whole person being. It demands that we as adults and their caretakers admit that anxiety and depression are important indicators of wellness, and “having the blues” can perhaps be the sign of a larger problem.
Nationally there have been reports on increase in suspected suicide attempts among adolescents and a significant increase among emergency room visits for adolescent age girls since pre-pandemic times. As someone in a school serving girls in grade 3 - 8, this is alarming. Our overall school experience also indicates an increase in mental health concerns for our students. Our school counselor in particular notes that student mental health concerns come into our hallways and classrooms, resulting in disruptive behavior at times. In addition, the pandemic has led to some of our students with an over-reliance on technology and social media and a resulting increase in anxiety.
As a school, we continue to prioritize the attention given to our students’ mental health through intentionally focusing on it as part of the school day. This is done through:
Scheduled time for social emotional learning, highlighting the important skills students need to be part of a community
Office hours for the counselor, allowing students to receive support at school, both individually and in small groups
Connecting with families to create a circle of support around our students
As a faith based school, prayer and reflection opportunities throughout the day provide spiritual nourishment
Peer time together with team building
Curriculum and a school climate that supports our students in being their authentic selves every day
Additionally, If you are reading this and want to know what else we might each do, following are a few suggestions:
Acknowledge that mental health concerns in children are real, and should be taken seriously in order to find support that works for each child.
Children need caring, trusted adults in their lives, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be their parent. Are you that person? Let them know you are there to support them. Keep communication open and talk often and openly about your concerns.
Promote respect and positive relationships between children and their peers. Help them to see the importance of both being respectful and being respected in their peer groups.
Normalize personal challenges to offset the social media “perfect life.” Children need to learn how to bounce back the inevitable bumps in the road of life. They need help in understanding that setbacks are temporary. By honestly acknowledging the challenges that we all face, children are better able form a realistic view of what it means to persist through a problem.
Know when to be concerned and develop your own awareness of social-emotional wellness. Be aware of what may indicate a change in behavior, lingering anxiety or depression, articulated mental health concerns from a child, and engage a professional accordingly.
The current state of our children demands that we pay attention to their overall wellness and help them continue to grow and mature into balanced lives.