As an adult, we want to look after our youth. We find it our duty to keep them safe and out of harms way. When that harm is not from an outside source, it’s hard to know when you need to reach out. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness,1 “one in five young people ages 13-18 have, or will have, a serious mental illness in their life. Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness start by age 14.” 2
To help children through this rough period of life, there are programs like Youth Mental Health First Aid3 that “equips teachers, parents and caregivers with the skills they need to identify and reach out to a young person who may be experiencing a mental health or substance use problem.”2
The following are four tools you can use to assist a child in need:
If you’re familiar with a child’s behavior and it suddenly and drastically changes, look for other signs, like “withdrawing from their friends, dramatically have an increased or decreased appetite, or act out.”2
The stigma for mental illness is dying down but it’s prevalent enough that it may be difficult for a child to speak up. Let them know that you are open and ready to listen. Be genuine; admit that this is a difficult situation for the both of you.
During your conversation, “be prepared to offer information to a child who needs it.”2 It’s important for them to know that you are not the only resource and can help guide them to helpful websites, phone numbers, and even other individuals.
To properly take care of others, we must first take care of ourselves. Children learn from what we do, so by neglecting our own self-care, we are showing them it’s okay to neglect personal wellbeing. Take time for yourself and role model positive mental health first aid.
To learn more about mental health first aid, visit www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org for courses, tips, and action plans.
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