For many parents, understanding the mental health of their children can be filled with guesswork. And there’s no shortage of advice that may (or may not) be accurate or relevant. In short, it can be a mystery—it’s hard to tell what is normal, what needs attention and what to do when you feel there is a problem.
Read on to learn about some common mental health myths and to get a clearer picture of this complex parenting puzzle.
It might surprise you to learn that kids of all ages can have mental health challenges. All children have emotions and brains, so—just like adults—they have mental wellness too.
While it is true that parenting can affect some behavior in children, no single factor causes or prevents mental health challenges. The environment, genetics, a child’s social influences and parenting all play a part. Many factors contribute to mental health, and playing the “blame game” or feeling guilty doesn’t help anyone move forward and heal emotionally.
If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, here are some things you can do:
- Seek proper diagnosis and treatment.
- Help your child build coping skills and gain resilience.
- Discuss, and know, your own family’s history regarding all health conditions, both physical and mental.
Some parents don’t want to discuss concerns about their child’s mental health with their pediatrician because they are worried that it will automatically result in a diagnosis and medication that could stay with the child for her whole life. Although it’s true that a diagnosis may be necessary, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Strong4Life licensed therapist Jody Baumstein, LCSW emphasizes, “It’s better to get the help you need. And not every child who is feeling sad will get a diagnosis of depression. They might just get some support and learn some helpful coping skills to help through a difficult time.” It is much better to get help than to avoid it.
Not everyone needing mental health support needs medicine, either. Even if a professional suggests medication as an option, it is always a parent’s choice to accept the recommendation or not.
There is no research to show that talking about mental health puts ideas in a child’s mind or causes children to develop mental health symptoms. In fact, many would argue that being open and honest about mental health will only result in decreasing stigma and increasing access to appropriate care.
One example of a concern that parents often have is that talking about suicide will give their child the idea. There is no research to support this myth.
A child, of any age, talking about suicide is a significant red flag and should always be taken seriously. If you are concerned that your child has suicidal thoughts or behaviors, you can call the Georgia Crisis and Access Line at 1-800-715-4225. This line is staffed 24/7 by licensed mental health clinicians.