K-12 Students and Mental Health
Often, we think of children and our K-12 students as resilient and immune to some of the emotional issue’s adults face. It is easy to brush off their emotions simply because they are kids and follow it up with “they will be fine”. In some cases, that’s true, children are extraordinarily strong and resilient but sometimes our youth are just as or even more fragile than adults. A lot of times when adults struggle with mental health, we do not know immediately where to go or who to turn to.
The same uncertainty can be said for our children except they might not know that what they are experiencing is, in fact, a mental health concern. As adults, it is so important for us to be able to spot the signs and symptoms of student’s mental health concerns and be able to intervene effectively in an appropriate and timely manner.
Awareness of mental illness signs can be present at any time. They can be gradual or happen overnight. Mental illness in children can be difficult for a parent to identify. The important thing is to recognize the symptoms as soon as possible and act accordingly.
The following is a list of specific signs for adults to be cognizant of:
- Not eating or eating all the time, rapid weight loss or gain.
- Making threats to themselves or others.
- Extreme energy or lack of it.
- Severe agitation, pacing.
- New sleep habits such as sleeping all the time or being unable to sleep.
- Confused thinking or irrational thoughts.
- Thinking everyone is out to get them or seeming to lose touch with reality.
- Hallucinations or delusions.
- Isolating themselves from friends and family.
- Rapid mood swings.
- Suicidal thoughts and statements.
What to do Next?
Okay. So now you have recognized that there might be something going on with your child. What do you do next? If there is an immediate threat of suicidal thoughts, then it is crucial to get help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Line is the best resource to utilize in a case like this. The NSPL provides free, confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
If there is no immediate threat, what should you do next? Find out more information from others who interact with your child. This could be teachers, mentors, coaches, etc. Inquire if they have noticed any changes in behavior. This can help confirm what you have been suspecting. The next step is to seek out a mental health professional. An evaluation by a professional will help determine what the next best step of action is for your child.
These next steps can include, but are not limited to:
- Medications: When prescribed appropriately by an experienced clinician and taken as directed, medication may reduce or eliminate troubling symptoms and improve the daily functioning of children and adolescents with psychiatric disorders.
- Therapy/Counseling: Psychological therapy is meant to treat a mental health condition or help a child manage their symptoms so that they can function well at home, in school, and their community.
- Support: helping a child feel secure, safe, relate well with others, and foster their growth at home and school.
Mental health issues that a child might be experiencing will not only affect themselves but also the rest of the family, including parents, and siblings. These deleterious emotions and feelings can often lead to parents feeling discouraged, guilty, confused, and unsure of what to do. Often parents put their children’s needs ahead of their own. Children look up to their parents, therefore, making it especially important that parents show their children that they take the time to promote their individual health and wellness. This could be in the form of resting, eating well, and socializing. When your child needs help, it is vital to be at your best instead of in an emotional, stressed, or tired state. This is where family counseling can be a great resource for the entire family. Family counseling treats all members of the family as partners in the treatment plan. Whatever form of treatment a parent decides on, remember there are options and help is available – if you seek it.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health
Family Support America
National Association of School Psychologists