Previously, we discussed the various early warnings signs of a possible mental illness in children and teens. In part two, we now shift our focus to contributing factors and discuss how families can implement small strategies that promote positive mental health at home.
While anyone at any age can develop a mental illness, there are common factors or circumstances that may increase those odds for children and adolescents.
- Having significant difficulty in school over several years could be a risk-factor for low self-esteem, which may eventually lead to depression.
- A physical illness, serious injury, or sudden physical disability can also be a catalyst for depression.
- A history of mental health issues in the family can also be a risk-factor, even though many mental illnesses are not known to be genetically linked.
- Being forced to take on “adult responsibilities” at too young an age, either because of absent parents, irresponsible or negligent guardians, or unfit caregivers, could potentially lead to mental health stress and anxiety in children and teens.
- Similarly, poverty and/or homelessness also puts children at risk of developing a mental health issue.
- A turbulent home life, involving either drug or alcohol abuse, domestic violence, parental discord, or sexual abuse are major risk-factors for several mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, self harm, eating disorders, OCD, ODD, etc.
Strategies for Strengthening Mental Health:
- Make time specifically to do activities that you all enjoy. When family members can agree on an activity and experience it together, self-confidence and feelings of security become that much stronger.
- Help guide children and teens in the right direction, but let them know that you trust their judgment and acknowledge that they have ultimate control over how they respond to the world them. A vote of confidence can help reduce anxiety when it comes to challenges and decision making.
- Discuss how learning, growing, and improving are fluid processes; no one automatically succeeds at everything. Remind children to be patient with themselves and not identify their worth in comparison to someone else.
- When things are difficult, socially, emotionally, physically, or mentally, teach children and teens how to cope with barriers and challenges. Model different problem–solving strategies and make sure that they feel supported in those times of need. The sense of security and comfort can be huge for mental health.
- Prompt quiet, meditative time throughout the week. This can be difficult, as schedules become jam packed with activities. However, starting with just 15 minutes of quiet reading, drawing, stretching, guided imagery, calming music, etc., can have major restorative results for adolescents who are stressed or overwhelmed.