Content Warning: Please be advised that the following article contains information about childhood trauma, abuse, suicide, and other potentially triggering subjects. Read with discretion.
The first week of May, from May 1st to May 7th, is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the US. The American Psychological Association recognizes the National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day on May 7th each year. Understanding youth mental health can be beneficial in reducing stigmas surrounding mental health conditions and symptoms in those under 18.
According to the CDC, 1 in 6 children aged 2-8 years has a mental health condition. Of those, over 50% received treatment for their symptoms in 2019. Additional studies show that at least 1 in 5 youth aged 9-17 also experience symptoms of a diagnosable mental health condition.
Childhood Mental Health Conditions
Children under nine and adolescents from ten to 17 years of age can experience various mental health conditions. Understanding these conditions and how they may present in children can be beneficial in receiving prompt and accurate diagnosis and treatment.
The most common mental health conditions for those under 18 and their estimated percentages in the US include the following:
- Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): 9.8% of children
- Anxiety Disorders: 9.4% of children
- Behavioral Disorders: 8.9% of children
- Depressive Disorders: 4.4% of children
Several mental health conditions can be diagnosed in childhood which may not be present in adulthood, including the following:
- Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
- Conduct Disorder (CD)
- Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)
- Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED)
Signs Of Mental Health Concerns In Children And Teens
National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day can include understanding the signs and symptoms often present in those under 18 with a mental health condition. As symptoms can differ from adult presentations, detecting a mental health problem may be challenging for parents, caregivers, and childcare workers. Warning signs of mental health conditions in children include the following.
Decreased Interest In Activities
A child's mental health condition may become apparent through a decreased interest in typical childhood activities, such as playing with toys, socializing with their age group, physical activity, a desire to learn, and affectionate behavior with families. The child may appear dejected, cry often, or act aggressively toward caregivers.
Some children experiencing an intellectual disability may experience delays in cognitive function, social skills, or emotional control. For example, autistic children may be non-verbal, meaning they do not verbally speak in accordance with their developmental stage. Children might also struggle with school activities such as reading, writing, or mathematics. Common causes of intellectual or developmental delays include:
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Dyslexia Or Dyscalculia
- Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Down Syndrome
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
- Cerebral Palsy
- Language Disorders
- Intellectual Disabilities
- Hearing Or Vision Loss
If you notice your child often crying, yelling, or expressing emotions in ways that harm themselves or those around them, it may be a sign of a mood disorder or mental health concern. Although some children may be more sensitive to emotional input, emotional outbursts could signify a benefit in observing future behaviors.
Inappropriate Or Sudden Behavioral Changes
More than two-thirds of children report a traumatic event by age 16. For this reason, keeping an eye out for signs a child has experienced a traumatic event can be crucial.
If a child has witnessed or experienced abuse from an adult, they may start bringing up topics that could seem inappropriate to a caregiver. They might also show signs of fear of their body, distrust of certain adults, or mood swings in the presence of certain adults or locations.
Children might not always report trauma. However, if they do, investigate the source seriously and bring your child to their pediatrician for referral or examination. If you suspect your child has experienced a traumatic event, having them speak to a childhood therapist or counselor can be beneficial.
If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. You can also use the online chat. If you’re a teen or child experiencing or witnessing abuse of any kind from a family or caregiver, reach out to the Child Help Hotline at 1-800-422-4453 or use the online chat feature.
Physical Or Emotional Conflict
If a child physically harms themselves, you, or a loved one, it could indicate an underlying mental health condition. Additionally, children who yell, insult, or put down others in their lives could be experiencing symptoms related to a childhood disorder, another condition, or concern.
Talk Of Suicide Or Self-Harm
If a child or teen under 18 has talked of suicide or self-harm, reach out for support immediately. If you or your child is experiencing thoughts or urges of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 988 to talk to someone over SMS. They are available 24/7 to offer support.
Self-harm prevention may be possible through school programs, counseling, or residential treatment centers for children and adolescents. Talk to your child about the dangers of self-harm and offer positive mental health alternatives, such as art supplies, a cold bath, or distraction through a movie night or family activity.
How To Celebrate Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week
During children’s mental health awareness week or on National Children's Mental Health Day, you may celebrate by spending time with your children, checking in on them, and educating yourself on mental health concerns that occur in those under 18. Spread the word by posting on social media, talking to those in your organization, or organizing a community event to raise awareness for children.
You can also interact with the following organizations that work year-round to provide support to underprivileged children:
- Baby2Baby: A non-profit offering diapers, clothing, and necessities to children living in poverty and their parents to support a child’s healthy development.
- World Of Children: An organization dedicated to supporting children and families in need worldwide.
- Our Place Healing Hearts Foundation: A non-profit dedicated to supporting families and children impacted by domestic violence and abuse.
- Youth Mental Health Project: Funding mental health education for youth and underrepresented populations.
- AIM Youth Mental Health: An organization advocating for youth mental health resources, support, and treatment funding.
- SAMSHA 2020 Directory Of Youth Treatment Facilities: A directory to find treatment facilities, hospitals, and providers for children, youth, and young adults with mental health conditions.
2022 Statistics On Youth Mental Health
Understanding the facts behind youth mental health and suicide prevention may allow you to learn the importance of catching concerns early on and supporting the de-stigmatization of mental health worldwide. Below are a few up-to-date statistics on child mental health:
- Over 2.5 million youth live with major depressive disorder, which has increased in number by 197,000 since 2021
- The highest rate of childhood depression in the US is seen in Wyoming
- 39.7% of American youth received treatment for depression in 2022
- In 2020, mental health-related visits to the emergency department for children increased by 24% from previous years
- From 2007 to 2016, the number of child psychiatrists in the US increased at a rate of over 21%
- In 2019, over 13% of children aged 5-17 received mental health treatment
Additional studies on effective therapeutic modalities for children found that cognitive-behavioral therapy proves highly effective in treating childhood anxiety disorders and depression.
Witnessing any mental health challenges your child may experience can be challenging for parents and caregivers. Learning more about childhood mental health during Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month can be valuable in understanding your children and receiving support. Counseling is also available for parents and caregivers who feel they could use someone to talk to about their family struggles, personal mental health concerns, or life stressors. A therapist can be a compassionate, validating support system.
If you find that family life presents a barrier to accessing traditional in-person therapy, you can also take advantage of online counseling, which offers flexible and affordable plans for parents. You will only require a personal smart device like a cellphone and a solid internet connection to your sessions. Additionally, studies indicate that online counseling is as effective as traditional counseling methods in treating symptoms related to prolonged family stress due to family mental health conditions.
If you are over 18, you can reach out to a counselor through a platform like BetterHelp. Or, if you want to support your adolescent child aged 12-19 in signing up for online therapy, they can try TeenCounseling with parental approval. Both platforms offer over 20,000 licensed therapists specializing in various areas of mental wellness.
What is National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day?
National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is a day of observance designed to raise public awareness for children’s mental health concerns and encourage adults, especially parents, and children alike to advocate for and protect their own mental health and the mental health of the people around them.
What month is Children's Mental Health Awareness Month?
Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month is celebrated in May, with Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day falling on the first Thursday of the first full week of May. In 2023, this was May 11.
What is the purpose of Mental Health Awareness Week?
The purpose of Mental Health Awareness Week is to encourage the public to join in the conversation about mental health, break down the stigmas associated with mental illness, advocate for better and more accessible treatment, and make efforts to improve their own mental health.
What is the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week May 2023?
The theme of Mental Health Awareness Week in 2023 was Anxiety. Schools, organizations, and government offices worked together to educate the public about the reality of living with anxiety disorders, how having anxiety looks and feels, and how it can be managed.
What is the purpose of Mental Health Awareness Month?
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the purpose of Mental Health Awareness Month is “to increase awareness of the importance of mental health and wellness in Americans' lives and to celebrate recovery from mental illness.” Individuals are encouraged to join in activities that promote education about mental health and mental illness and incorporate new mental health practices into their own lives.
How do you explain mental health to a child?
When explaining mental health to a child, it can be helpful to use analogies to physical health. For example, you might say, “just like we have to listen to our bodies when they tell us something needs attention, such as being hungry or needing to sleep, we need to listen to our minds and our emotions when they tell us something needs attention.” Try to explain their situation as simply and straightforwardly as possible, using age-appropriate wording and examples. It is especially important to let the child know that it is safe and encouraged for them to ask questions and bring up concerns with a trusted adult, and that they always have someone to talk to if they have a mental health concern.
How do you promote mental health awareness?
You can promote mental health awareness by working with local organizations like schools, religious institutions, and government offices to create campaigns for mental health events. You can also join conversations about mental health in digital spaces like social media. If you are comfortable doing so, sharing your experiences with mental health can help others feel less alone and help you find a community with similar experiences.
How do you celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month?
You can celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month by tracking and paying attention to your own mental health, sharing your mental health journey if you are comfortable doing so, and participating in local Mental Health Awareness Month activities.
Why is mental health awareness important for children?
Children are consistently moving through new developmental phases and changing environments that can make maintaining good mental health challenging. Having appropriate support for their mental health can help children hit appropriate developmental milestones, learn to regulate their emotions appropriately, and find success in school, home, and community environments.
What is the theme for Children's Mental Health Day 2023?
Unlike other similar events, there is no one set theme for Children’s Mental Health Day. Each state and organization tends to choose a theme fitting for their region. There are often set themes for Children’s Mental Health Week, such as 2023’s Let’s Connect theme, though this is a distinct event.
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