With the end of school, many parents and guardians are spending more time with their children, giving them the opportunity to check in on their sanity.
Youth mental health issues have been on the rise for years. Before the pandemic,
in Wisconsin suffered from anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. While it’s difficult to quantify the impact of the pandemic on children’s mental health, experts say isolation, disconnection from school and friends, family financial strains, and illness and death in loved ones have exacerbated children’s mental health problems.
During the first months of the pandemic, there was a
in mental health emergencies for children aged 5 to 11, and a 31% increase for those aged 12 to 16. LGBTQ+ youth are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation as their non-LGBTQ+ peers.
The end of the school year can be a double-edged sword for students, said Linda Hall, director of the state Office of Children’s Mental Health. This can relieve school pressures, bullying, and lost sleep time, but it can also mean that students are disconnected from many of the friends, trusted adults, and activities they rely on during the school year.
“If you feel this is happening with your kids, I would say look to your community,” she said. “Where are the places where your kids can get together with other kids in the community, so they can help each other, and maybe there are also supportive adults to help ground them and give them ideas on how to be healthy and safe.”
To tie in with the recent release of a
on children’s mental health focused on children’s experiences, Hall and the Office of Children’s Mental Health highlighted best practices and resources to help children manage their mental health and stay connected to their communities.
Hall said adults should make room to listen to their children every day.
“Create a space, even if it’s just a few minutes, without an agenda, without judgment, just be open to listen,” she said. “They might not say much at first, but soon they will start opening up to you.”
from the University of Wisconsin-Madison showed that adults’ habits also strongly influence their children’s behavior, especially around technology.
“We need parents to model the pose of your phone and your screens and the interaction with your children,” Hall said. “Whether it’s going out to play a game, having a meal together where you’re talking and the phones are in another room, those are all important things to identify.”
She said adults also need to be in touch with their own mental health. When they don’t assess the emotions and experiences they bring to the table, they risk interpreting their children’s actions or feelings not in terms of the children, but in terms of their own issues.
“We also need better access for parents to mental health and addictions treatment, because we know that there are parents who do not have access to this type of treatment,” she said. declared. “Their impairment affects their children.”
School, State, and National Resources
Hall noted that the majority of children who receive mental health help do so in school, and while some districts are able to continue those services through the summer, many are not. Some schools also cannot afford counselors or school psychiatrists to meet the needs of their students – or, even if they can afford them, cannot find people to fulfill these roles.
If parents see changes in things like their children’s sleep, diet or interactions, Hall said their first resource should be the family’s pediatrician or GP.
in Wisconsin have a “medical house” or a family-centered personal doctor or nurse that they use for sickness and wellness visits, so this option is not available to all families.
The Office of Children’s Mental Health website has several resources, including a ”
” that helps children – and their adults – understand how they are doing.
The site also has
for a variety of children’s mental health issues.
A national mental health services hotline, 988 – modeled on 911 –
. Hall said Wisconsin has taken a head start in centralizing its services and should be able to use the hotline to connect families to services when it launches.
Mental health services are spotty, but students want to help
Many school and community mental health services for children are funded by grants, which can often mean that they are at risk of disappearing if funds run out. With an influx of federal dollars through multiple rounds of coronavirus relief funding, some schools have been able to pour more money into mental health services — but that, too, is time-limited, as case relief dollars pandemic must be accounted for by 2025.
“These programs are very helpful and making a difference, but we need them to be funded on an ongoing basis,” Hall said.
Children struggling with their mental health begin to experience symptoms of emotional distress, on average,
. Hall said school mental health programs can help ease their symptoms while they wait for treatment.
“We know that in behaviors kids are showing us what they’re thinking,” Hall said, pointing to reports of increased expulsions from preschools and more disciplinary problems at school. “What we need to do is understand these behaviors and try to understand, what is this child trying to communicate to us?”
One tool, she said, is youth-focused mental health organizations, including
that the Office of Children’s Mental Health identified in Wisconsin. They include “Raise Your Voice”, “HOPE Squads”, and “SOS”.
“We’re hearing from young people we’ve spoken to in listening sessions and other focus groups that they think we need to do more about mental health literacy,” she said. “They have ideas and they want to be in the lead in responding to them at school.”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, the following resources are also available:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255
- Douglas County Crisis Line: 715-395-2259
- Crisis Text Line: Text “Hopeline” to 741741 to speak to a qualified listener. The service is free, available 24/7 and confidential.
- Dial 911 in case of immediate danger.
Wisconsin Public Radio can be heard locally on 91.3 KUWS-FM and wpr.org.
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