Child & Adolescent Mental Health
Prevalence of Children's Mental Illness
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 6 US young people ages 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year. In addition, 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14. Recognizing the signs of Mental Illness is important, and research supports that the earlier support is provided, the better the outcome. Texas Education Agency (TEA) recognizes that outside of a child's home, schools play a large role in recognizing the early signs of mental health disorders. LEISD recognizes the impact that Mental Wellness has on academic achievement. The mission of the LEISD Counseling Department is to be champions of wellness and success for each member of the FamiLE.
What can be done to support my child?
Being aware of the signs to look for is the first step to supporting your child. Be willing to seek the support of professionals at your school, your community, or other medical professionals in order to provide your child with the care they need. Additionally, PREVENTION is one of the best ways to support your child, and is something that LEISD Counseling Department works diligently to provide for ALL students. Decades of research has been done to support prevention and early intervention for the mental health of children and young people.
The Texas Education Association (TEA) recognizes that early Mental Health interventions programs and services for children when they first exhibit signs of mental illness are needed. Such interventions can prevent or mitigate the effects of mental illness and positively affect a child’s long-term development. The use of early mental health interventions in schools requires school staff to be trained to recognize risk factors and warning signs of emotional or behavioral challenges and for schools to have a referral process and resources in place that allow students timely access to appropriate intervention. In response to the increased awareness of how Mental Health has impacted learning, LEISD provides Certified School counselors for each of their school sites, Intervention Counselors at middle and high schools, and has currently added a School Social Worker for the High School as well as one School Social Worker for K-8 schools. These support staff work together to provide Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) for all students in order to support the wellness of all students, therefore improving academic achievement.
As a part of MTSS, Counselors provide Social Emotional Learning (SEL) lessons and activities which have shown to increase protective factors which can buffer mental health risks for children and young people. A nationally recognized organization supporting the mental health of children and young people is the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). CASEL's research on the impact of SEL shows that SEL can promote positive mental health in many ways.
Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an integral part of education and human development. SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions. When children have these important skills, they excel academically and socially.
If you have concerns about your child's mental health, there is help available!
Recognizing the signs of Mental Illness
It is important for parents, teachers, and school staff to recognize and respond to the signs of Mental Illness. According to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), some signs that your child may be experiencing Mental Health Concerns include:
Disruptions In Daily Interactions And Relationships
Everyone experiences a “bad day” from time to time, but when your child seems to be having difficulty with routine daily tasks, it’s important to take notice. This can look like difficulty participating in regular social activities (with family, friends, adults), academics or play/activities.
It can also look like a personality change. For example, if your child is typically socially interactive, but begins to withdraw and has no interest in others, this could be an indicator of an underlying mental health issue. If you notice these type changes lasting more than just a few weeks, it may be time to seek professional help.
Anxiety is a typical reaction to situations that we perceive as potentially dangerous or where performance has a possible negative effect (like failing a test or losing a game). But when the amount of anxiety or stress is out of proportion to the reality of the risk, you should pay attention to these reactions. It’s time to consider intervening if your child:
- Worries about almost everything to the point of withdrawal or has difficulty functioning
- Is fearful of certain places (such as school) or going to new places
- Experiences sudden bursts of intense fear, impending doom or physical symptoms, such as rapid heart rate, hyperventilation, dizziness or nausea
- Believes they must repeat certain thoughts (obsessions) or behaviors (compulsions) to prevent something bad from happening
We can all feel “down” at some point, especially when setbacks happen. But if your child has ongoing difficulties with any of the following symptoms, it is time to act:
- Disturbances in mood (usually irritability in children, compared to deep sadness in adults)
- Impaired sleep (typically too much sleep, but some may have trouble falling or staying asleep)
- Decreased energy
- Decreased self-esteem
- Difficulty concentrating
- Change in appetite (typically excessive appetite or, more rarely, reduced appetite)
- Seems agitated or conversely, “slowed down”
- Expresses thoughts of hurting themselves, especially thoughts of suicide
Be on the lookout for changes in behavior that may be due to using substances, including alcohol, marijuana products, psychedelic drugs, prescription medications and others. Substance use may also extend to misuse of over-the-counter drugs or medications prescribed to other people (typically friends or family).
If your child is using substances, you may observe a decline in school or sports performance, decreased engagement with family or friends, sleep problems and sluggish or agitated behavior. Treatment for substance use can be very helpful.
Changes In School Performance
Some children have challenges with standard academic work. However, if your child typically performs well and begins having difficulties, there may be an underlying mental health condition to blame. If academic challenges persist, it may be helpful to get consult with a clinician.
Acute Or Prolonged Stress
A child witnessing violence or experiencing abuse/neglect at home will most likely experience acute or prolonged stress. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be the result of these trauma experiences and may include symptoms like:
- Disturbances in memory issues, such as flashbacks
- Recurrent thoughts of the trauma
- Emotional numbing, such as avoiding social and emotional contact with others
- The emergence of a hyper-state of arousal, like they might panic at any time
It is important for anyone experiencing trauma to be able to process, or work through, those experiences. Meeting with a professional can be helpful.
Just like the rest of us, children react to challenging situations. Those reactions can include increased anxiety, depression or a mixture of emotional reactions. Common situations that contribute to adjustment difficulties include grief and loss (such as death of a loved one), changes in a parent’s employment, military deployment of a parent, domestic violence, bullying or harassment. If your child seems to be struggling after experiencing a certain event or situation, it can be helpful to talk with a professional about what you are observing.