A common theme for people who have transitioned into accepting and treating their mental health is that they wish they had started earlier. That if they had any inkling of how their mental health might need extra support, they’d do more and learn more in a heartbeat.
Mental health treatment and therapy is too often an afterthought, a response to a realization that perhaps medication or counseling might help dig us out of a deep abyss. It rarely seems to begin as a proactive effort. But that makes me wonder, could it be? Could we avoid hitting those lowest moments before they even drag us down?
Except that means we need to include all people in our perception of what mental illness looks like. We assume that depression and anxiety are conditions that bubble up during adolescence, a repercussion of hormonal changes during puberty. That teenage angst that might seem to go too far. Or we just picture adults who struggle getting out of bed and functioning at work. It’s as if there’s a cut-off for how old you have to be to receive a diagnosis or suffer from the emotional turmoil.
But are we leaving out an important population of mentally ill people in the process? At what age is it appropriate to pinpoint mental health’s effects on individuals and how to find balance? If we want to see mental health differently, we need to include everybody into the mix. Children suffer, too.
When I was in elementary school, I don’t remember having anybody who took any medication, who went to therapy, who had any major issues that affected themselves or anybody around them. This environment I remember seems very different to what classrooms look like now, where kids are medicated, sent away to facilities for treatment, and face difficult challenges in life I wouldn’t wish on anybody. I don’t know whether behavioral and emotional issues are more prevalent now or they are now actually classified and treated. Either way, I empathize with those young people and genuinely hope they receive the care they deserve.
Even with this increase in awareness, how much do we really know? How are we communicating this to people of all ages? How can we prepare and educate children to know when and how to support a healthy mindset? We cannot approach mental health to children the same way as adults. Their developing minds are vulnerable to resorting to forms of coping that harm themselves and others if left to their own devices, including bullying, self-harm and suicide.
According to the American Psychological Association, an estimated 15 million of our nation’s young people can currently be diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Many more are at risk of developing a disorder due to risk factors in their biology or genetics. There is a great need for mental health professionals to provide the best available care based on scientific evidence, good clinical expertise, and that takes into account the unique characteristics of the child or adolescent. However, it is estimated that only about 7 percent of these youth who need services receive appropriate help from mental health professionals.
Quality healthcare at every age is a basic human right, not a privilege. Insurance for healthcare services, especially for young people, is questionable in its availability and quantity. Families that cannot avoid the expenses of counseling or in-residence therapy options for their children shouldn’t be punished. In fact, we’re lacking in mental health resources that don’t completely disrupt a child’s life by uprooting them from their familiar family, friend and school dynamic to be placed in an institution.
In the battle to improve mental health treatment across the nation, we need an entity within that specifically for children’s mental health. This not only includes community-based programs that could easily be included at after-school locations like the YMCA or Boys and Girls Club, but also in educational curricula that is less standoffish and clinical and more personal for kids to grasp and relate to. We need to not only emphasize the importance of yearly checkups at the doctor’s office and staying up-to-date with vaccination schedules, but also emphasize the importance early diagnoses and awareness of mental illness.
It’s easy to play off certain behaviors in children as just a need for greater discipline. An excuse to send them to the principal’s office. A mention at parent-teacher conferences that a child might be more withdrawn in class and social situations. Which yes, they can easily just be those things. But what if they’re not? What if those little signs are a signal to a greater issue that is holding a child back from a full, balanced life? That isn’t fair to anybody.
Cliche as it is, but let’s think about the children. We’re raising the next generation. What do we want to teach them? How do we want them to lead their lives and treat themselves and others? How can we support these young people so they have a better upbringing than those before us? We cannot take these questions lightly. This is a narrow window of time we need to utilize. I don’t think it’s ever too early to start teaching others these crucial ways of taking care of our well-beings. We can avoid wasting precious time and help young people make proactive steps to avoid those regrets later on.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie