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Tips for Discussing Mental Health with Children and Teens

April is Stress Awareness Month. Stress can directly affect children’s mental health.

Here are some great insights and tips for parents to talk to their children about mental health.

  • Mental health-related emergency room visits increased substantially for children and teens during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the proportion of related visits were up 24% for children five to 11 years old and 31% for children 12 to 17 years when compared to the same time period in 2019.
  • Children and adolescents might not be equipped with the same coping skills as adults. They also might not have the words to explain what they’re feeling.
  • Normalize talking about feelings and everything else
    • Regularly check in about the day-to-day
    • Naming feelings and talk about them in age-appropriate ways  
  • Listen without judgement
    • Letting children and teens know they are heard and that their feelings are valid will build trust
    • While it’s tempting to “fix” a problem, it may be enough to listen   
  • Discuss difficult topics  
    • Talking about depression or suicide might feel scary, but being open and honest about mental health conditions can save lives
    • While there’s a perception that talking about suicide could lead to increased thoughts of suicide, research has shown that the opposite is true: talking about suicide can encourage those in danger to seek help
  • Know when to seek help
    • Be on the lookout for these symptoms in children: 
    • Avoiding friends and social activities
    • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
    • Changes in school performance
    • Excessive worry or anxiety
    • Hyperactive behavior
    • Frequent nightmares
    • Frequent disobedience or aggression
    • Substance use
  • If parents or caregivers suspect a child needs help, talking to a primary care physician is a good first step.