Mental Health Help for all Children During COVID-19 and Beyond

For the past fifteen years a May date has been designated as National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) created the day to raise awareness about the importance of children’s mental health as an essential part of healthy child development. Today more than ever it is critical for our nation to reflect on whether we are doing everything possible to support the mental, social, and emotional well-being of all children and youth.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, 1 in 5 children will experience a mental health challenge, and ADHD, behavior problems, anxiety, and depression are the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children ages 2-17. Early diagnosis and treatment of mental health challenges can make a substantial difference in the lives of children and their families, yet not everyone has equal access to mental health services and supports. Socio-economic factors greatly impact some forms of mental health challenges for children and youth, creating greater stressors on their daily lives and limiting access to support services.

The global pandemic that we face today threatens the well-being of our children and teens. We are all experiencing a pre-traumatic state of mental health right now. Helping children feel safe, supported, and connected during this time is critical to their mental health and resilience. Social media is filled with the struggles of parents and educators trying to keep children and teens engaged and connected. For older children, social media and the digital world are part of their culture and a natural form of expression. However, adolescents struggling with mental health challenges can feel even more isolated during this time, with an increased sense of hopelessness and helplessness. Reaching out for help can be difficult for teens and their families.

For younger children who rely upon peer interactions and play to help them explore their world and define themselves, social distancing has created a deep sense of loss and confusion. We need to pay attention to what young children are experiencing right now. Studies show that negative events that occur in early childhood can have a life-long impact on mental health. Further, there is a wealth of research to support the need for play as a necessary foundation for positive child development. Any parent can tell you that sitting a young child in front of an online class of their peers creates a greater sense of distress rather than community. Young children may hear the explanation of “social distance,” but seeing their friends from afar and not being able to play with them is heartbreaking.

Children need a way to articulate and explore their feelings without being overwhelmed by them. Mindfulness is a proven strategy for helping children of all ages become more aware of their emotions and manage the effects of stress in their lives. Research shows that the consistent use of mindfulness-based interventions improves learning skills and resilience from early childhood through adolescence. Practicing mindfulness for even 5-10 minutes a day results in a greater sense of well-being for children and their families. It brings heightened awareness and clarity that helps families identify and better cope with mental health challenges. As with all evidence-based mental health prevention strategies, mindfulness needs to be accessible to children and families across racial, ethnic, and socio-economic boundaries. Equity matters and Inner Explorer is committed to reaching across barriers to provide all children and their families with the resources needed to foster healthy mental, social, and emotional development.

For more information, visit www.innerexplorer.org.

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