With approximately 1 in 5 children currently living with a mental health condition, raising mental health awareness on elementary, middle and high school campuses is more important than ever. As a counselor, I know that the symptoms of a great number of mental health conditions begin to appear around the age of 14. The reason why 14 is the magic age is something I can only guess has something to do with the mixture of genetic predisposition to certain mental illnesses, environmental influences and chemical imbalances and fluctuations due to puberty. My worry surrounds the fact that of the 1 in 5 children with a mental health condition, less than half seek treatment, and the majority of that half do not seek treatment until years after the onset of symptoms. Like most health conditions, waiting to seek support can greatly impact a child’s life. Many youngsters with mental health conditions also struggle with addiction, drop out of school and become tangled up with the justice system.
It is often very difficult to tell the difference between normal pre-teen/teenage “stuff” and symptoms of a mood disorder (like Depression), behavior disorder (like ADHD) or an anxiety disorder (…like Anxiety). In fact if you read the diagnostic criteria for a number of mental health conditions, you may find yourself thinking well, that’s every teenager. In a way, I am sure for most parents, educators and yes, even counselors that makes identifying and diagnosing some of these conditions… well, scary. You’ll read on blogs, in text books and journal articles that there are certain warning signs to look out for. While this is true, I believe this is only half of the puzzle. Every child is different, mental health conditions can affect each child differently. The other half of the puzzle is knowing what is typical and what is not for A SPECIFIC child, trusting your gut and seeking professional support.
My responsibility as a school counselor is to facilitate discussions about mental health and the impact that untreated conditions have on a student’s academic growth and provide information and about the mental health support programs available for students and families. During mental health awareness month, I will give several presentations in schools across metro-Detroit, talking with students, parents, teachers and other school counselors. With each conversation I will help to normalize the need for mental health services, and breakdown barriers between those that need support and those who offer support. Throughout mental health awareness month, I will do my best to support the needs of the student’s I am fortunate to know and advocate for. How will you help raise awareness this month? How will you influence positive mental health care in the children that you care for?