Whether it’s exercising more, eating a healthy diet or losing weight, we all have resolutions that we focus on this time of year. This year, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital would like to shift some of that focus from physical goals to mental ones: Specifically, the mental health of you and your loved ones.
Children’s Mental Health: A Growing Concern
According to data from Nicklaus Children’s, mental health has long been a concern for children, but it has only grown worse during the pandemic. One in every five children is coping with some form of mental illness, and 3.2 million kids in the U.S. have been victims of bullying. Half of all mental illnesses begin when people are still children, by the age of 14.
What’s more, the American Psychological Association notes that the recent COVID-19 pandemic made a bad situation even worse for kids with mental health concerns. From March 2020 to October 2020, mental health-related visits to emergency departments increased 30 percent among 12- to 17-year-olds and 24 percent among 5- to 11-year-olds. One survey of parents found that 71 percent of them said the pandemic had taken a toll on their child’s mental health, and 69 percent of parents said it was the worst thing to happen to their child.
On Our Sleeves
To help you renew your focus on the mental health of both you and your children in 2023, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital has joined the On Our Sleeves movement. The mission of On Our Sleeves is to provide every community access to free, evidenced-informed educational resources necessary for breaking stigmas about child mental health, and educating families and advocates. We also support access to services by connecting families to trusted local resources.
On Our Sleeves offers several ways to get involved. For one, you can subscribe to our newsletter to receive education and resources on a monthly basis. You can also browse their guides on topics for parents, kids and teens, educators and health care providers. If you need more immediate help for you and your family, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital also provides links to Florida mental health resources for children, including the Suicide and Crisis Hotline (988) or the Crisis Text Line (text “START” to 741-741).
Starting a Conversation with Your Kids
On Our Sleeves also emphasizes the importance of speaking with your kids to recognize problems and get them the help they need before it gets worse. The best way to start a conversation is to pick a good time each day for check-ins with low distractions, such as during family dinners, at bedtime or on daily walks. Then, be ready to share your own thoughts and feelings. By setting a standard of openness in your conversations, ideally it will begin to rub off on your kids, as well.
As the conversation gets going, be sure to ask open-ended questions that encourage discussion rather than feeling confrontational. This will ideally get your kids to share more about their true feelings over time. And if your child isn’t in the mood to talk that day, that’s okay. Pushing them may just cause them to shut down. Instead, pick a different time to revisit the conversation when your child feels like sharing. It can sometimes be challenging, but by being encouraging and supportive, you can foster better, more open communication over time.
These are just a few of the many tips that On Our Sleeves offers for having conversations with your kids related to mental health. You can find even more guidance and resources for doing so at onoursleeves.org or by clicking here.