As this week is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, the Division of Behavioral Health in Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services is shining a spotlight on the importance of children’s mental health.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected all of our lives for well more than a year now, but our children are especially vulnerable, even though many schools have been as flexible as possible in providing virtual education and in-school classes, according to students’ needs. When schools were shut down and all classes were virtual, not being able to be with their friends and play with children their age was especially difficult for them.
Predictability and routine are important for children, and for many youths that predictability has been disrupted for an extended time period. Restrictions are easing, but children still are dealing with the upheaval in their lives caused by the pandemic.
For many adults who have behavioral health disorders, symptoms were present — but often not recognized or addressed — in childhood and adolescence, according to DHHS. For a young person with symptoms of a mental behavioral health disorder, the earlier treatment is started, the more effective it can be. Early treatment can help prevent more severe, lasting problems as a child grows up.
“This month, we encourage parents, caregivers and other adults in a child’s life to learn more about the significant role mental health plays in overall wellness and well-being,” said Sheri Dawson, director of the Division of Behavioral Health. “Just like physical health, positive mental health is vital to a child’s development. It is OK to ask for information, ask questions and reach out for help.”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, young children may benefit from an evaluation and treatment if they:
— Have frequent tantrums or are intensely irritable much of the time
— Often talk about fears or worries
— Complain about frequent stomachaches or headaches with no known medical cause
— Are in constant motion and cannot sit quietly (except when they are watching videos or playing)
— Sleep too much or too little, have frequent nightmares, or seem sleepy during the day
— Are not interested in playing with other children or have difficulty making friends
— Repeat actions or check things many times out of fear that something bad may happen
The same is true with older children and adolescents, especially if they are spending more and more time alone or are having thoughts of suicide or hurting themselves.
Help is available. Parents can contact a family physician or a school counselor for a referral. But there are also hotlines available for immediate service:
— Nebraska Family Helpline — Any question, any time. 888-866-8660
— Rural Response Hotline, 1-800-464-0258