Addressing Your Child’s Health—That Means Mental Health, Too

May is Mental Health Month, designated to raise mental health awareness and spread the word about why mental health is just as important as physical health.

Stigma pegs mental illness as a weakness or something to be ashamed of. Even though one in every five Americans experiences a mental illness, the topic isn’t always openly talked about.

Mental health affects everyone regardless of culture, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and, age. One in five children ages 13 to 18 have or will have a serious mental illness at some point in their lifetime. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 50 percent of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and 75 percent by age 24.

The impact of youth mental illness has serious consequences. Over one-third (37 percent) of students with a mental health condition aged 14­–21 and older who are served by special education drop out. Seventy percent of youth in state and local juvenile justice systems have a mental illness. In the worst cases, consequences of mental illness extend beyond dropping out of school to getting into trouble with the law — and, in some cases, even death.

Suicide is now the third leading cause of death in youth from ages 10 to 14. More children under the age of 13 are committing suicide than ever before. During the last 17 years, there has been one child suicide every five days, each one with a whole life ahead of them. Studies show that 90 percent of youth who commit suicide have an underlying mental illness.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, these warning signs can indicate that a child may be suffering from mental illness:

  • Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks (e.g., crying regularly, feeling fatigued, feeling unmotivated)
  • Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
  • Trying to harm oneself or making plans to do so
  • Out-of-control, risk-taking behaviors that can cause harm to self or others
  • Not eating; significant weight loss or gain
  • Repeated use of drugs or alcohol
  • Drastic changes in behavior, personality, or sleeping habits (such as waking up early and acting agitated)
  • Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still
  • Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities like hanging out with friends or going to classes

If your child is showing signs of mental illness, there are many resources available to help you find the best way to help your child maintain good mental health.

Here’s what parents can do:

  • Talk with your pediatrician
  • Get a referral to a mental health specialist
  • Work with the school
  • Connect with other families