Children’s mental health awareness means giving kids and teens the opportunity to flourish in their academic, personal, and social lives.
While mental health is often discussed in the adult patient population, it is sometimes neglected in kids and teens. But, children’s mental health awareness is critically important! As part of their growth, children need to develop positive relationships with other children and adults. Therapists, nurses, parents, community members, and teachers should instruct them to adapt to the complex demands of society; to positively contribute to their peer groups, family, school, and community; and to make conscious decisions to avoid risky behaviors.
Basics for a Child’s Good Mental Health
The World Health Organization defines child and adolescent mental health as:
“the capacity to achieve and maintain optimal psychological functioning and well-being. It is directly related to the level reached and competence achieved in psychological and social functioning.”
Mental Health America identifies 6 basic needs to foster good mental health in children and adolescents:
- Unconditional love
- Self-confidence and high self-esteem
- The opportunity to play with other children
- Encouraging teachers and supportive caretakers
- Safe and secure surroundings
- Appropriate guidance and discipline
Children’s Mental Health Awareness
Studies have validated specific strategies that positively influence children’s mental health. Since mental health is related to physical, social, and psychological health, the children who have been taught these strategies are found to be healthier, happier, and more successful in their lives as adults:
1. The capacity to accurately perceive one’s feelings.
Children should be aware of their feelings, strengths, and weaknesses. Realizing, validating, and regulating one’s feelings can help children face challenges with confidence and a positive attitude. Adults can encourage them in the process of identifying their feelings and validating them. For example, parents, teachers, or therapists can reassure a child with sad or frustrated feelings when trying something new. They can also guide the child in the right direction so he/she experiences the joy of success.
2. Developing a positive attitude and values.
Developing a positive attitude helps children to be fair and honest. They learn to engage in healthy and safe behaviors. Adults should set an example by maintaining a positive attitude in the midst of trying situations.
Furthermore, positive values teach children to accept individual differences with respect. Explaining and educating children about individuality helps them understand the differences in society that they observe.
3. Developing social skills.
Actively listening, understanding others, cooperating with others, knowing their boundaries, facing or refusing pressured situations, and asking for assistance when needed are a few examples of social skills. Adults should maintain an open line of communication with children regarding their feelings about different situations. This makes them comfortable to share their reactions, beliefs, and emotional sentiments.
4. The capacity to make decisions.
Children should develop good decision-making skills as they age. They should be encouraged to evaluate a situation, set realistic goals, and implement their plan. Kids should be praised for their ability to make decisions. It is also important to ask basic questions to guide them in the right direction when they are evaluating a situation.
There are multiple programs available in schools as well as in the community to address social and health issues in children. These programs are concentrated on enhancing the mental health of the next generation:
- Preventing Mental Illness in Children
- Association for Children’s Mental Health
- Children’s Mental Health Resources
- School-Based Supports
Continuing Education Courses for Healthcare Professionals
- Resilience and its Role in Helping Young Clients Overcome Adversity
- Occupational Therapy for Children and Adolescents: Social Participation, Challenging Behavior and Activities of Daily Living
- Occupational Therapy for Children and Adolescents: Instrumental Activities, Play, Handwriting, Influencing Participation and Mobility
- Occupational Therapy for Children and Adolescents: Transitioning from Child to Adult, Working with Families and Transition to Adulthood
- Payton JW, Wardlaw DM, Graczyk PA, Bloodworth MR, Tompsett CJ, Weissberg RP. Social and Emotional Learning: A Framework for Promoting Mental Health And Reducing Risk Behavior in children and Journal of School Health. 2000; 70 (5): 179-185.
- Patel V, Flisher AJ, Nikapota A, Malhotra Promoting child and adolescent mental health in low and middle income countries. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 2008; 49 (3): 313-334.
- Kataoka SH, Zhang L, Wells Unmet Need for Mental Health Care Among U.S. Children: Variation by Ethnicity and Insurance Status. Am J Psychiatry. 2002; 159: 1548-1555.
- Strategies To Improve Mental Health Care for children and Adolescents. Comparative Effectiveness Prepare for: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. AHRQ Publication No. 16 (17)- EHC035-EF.
- Bromley J, Hare DJ, Davison K. Mothers supporting children with autistic spectrum disorders. Social support, mental health status and satisfaction with Autism. 2004;8 (4): 409-423.