Editor’s note: Dr. Neha Chowdhury, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, is the chief medical officer of BeMe Health and on faculty at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
In a world that can often feel divided, it’s easy to lose sight of one thing all adults have in common – we were all children once. Our caregivers and educators have played integral roles in our mental health, our views of the world and our abilities to navigate the vicissitudes of life.
It is estimated that 1 in 4 people worldwide will suffer from a mental health condition during their lifetime, According to the United Nations.
As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I believe that if every school and family invested in developing guidelines for how to support young people’s mental health—particularly during the formative teenage years—more Children will have the skills and support they need to thrive Until the age of majority. Here’s what should be in this operating guide:
The first step in addressing any problem is acknowledging its existence. Mental health is no different. Schools and families can ensure that children and teens learn about mental health – from awareness of the signs and symptoms of common conditions to tips on how to maintain and improve general well-being.
By incorporating a formal curriculum on what mental health means and what conditions look like, schools can Significantly improve children’s knowledge base on this topic. This will help them identify if they are struggling before it is too late, help friends in need or even discover and dispel misinformation when they come across it in places they traditionally turn to – like social media.
Education does not need to start and stop schools. Caregivers can also begin to teach children what they know about mental health, share any family history of mental health conditions and encourage their children to turn to resources where they can learn more.
Today’s youth is finally growing up in an era when mental health is no longer a taboo. However, opening up remains difficult. To create safe spaces for these conversations, we need to invite children – whether they are toddlers or older teens – to share what they think and feel without judging, criticizing or nullifying them.
Consider proactive check-ins at school every Friday. Or walk around the dinner table at home on Tuesdays and ask how everyone feels. by making Mental health is part of normal conversationWe’re sending a message that it’s okay to not be feeling well, that mental health is important, and that we can support each other through whatever comes our way.
One of the most common questions I get from parents and teens is what to do about the constant stresses of life. My advice is the same every time: these pressures will not stop. So, let’s find out how to handle and deal with the emotions that come with them, one by one.
Creating a coping toolkit is relatively simple, and the skills themselves work very well in making the emotional centers of the brain calm down.
I encourage kids to make lists What activities work best to help them feel better When those intense emotions strike—whether it’s listening to music, doing some hopping, reading a book, or distracting themselves with a task like folding a pile of laundry.
It may take some trial and error to figure out which coping skills are most useful, but once you have identified them, they should be added to that list and used again. These rolls are easy to make, both in the classroom and at home, and kids should be able to practice their skills in both places.
Once a child has a specific mental health problem, it can be difficult to know how and where to get help. But a proactive plan can be put into use if a difficult scenario arises where the child needs timely support.
Educators and caregivers should know when and how to refer children for a formal mental health assessment or occupational therapy. Parents should know how to request residency at the school, and schools should consider partnering with community organizations, businesses, and local mental health practices.
Emergency room visits to suicidal behaviors in young people significantly during the pandemic, highlighting the need for crisis support, especially for adolescents. However, during a crisis, it can be hard to know what to do. Proactive safety planning at home or at school can provide children with a set of steps to take if or when a crisis occurs. The plan may include a list of trusted adults, ways to make a safe environment and shared phone numbers for crisis lines, including 988 Suicide and lifeline crisis or Crisis text line.
At the end of the day, nothing is more valuable than asking the children in your family or class where they are, what they need and what helps them feel supported. If we want to better support young people, we need to spend more time listening and understanding so that we can meet their needs, setting aside our assumptions.
The mental health of young people is really a shared responsibility. Taken together — in the classroom, at home, and beyond — we might be surprised at what the next generation looks like.