You may have seen this hashtag in the past and never understood its meaning. May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Together for Mental Health holds a deeper meaning as we endure through our third year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mental health is an important component of overall health and can affect a person’s daily living including relationships, academics, work performance, and physical health. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about 1 in 5 adults suffer from mental health issues every year. Though mental, behavioral, and developmental disorders can begin in early childhood and continue into adulthood, especially if left untreated. One in six children (aged 2-8 years) in the U.S. has been diagnosed with a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder. The prevalence of mental health disorders varies with age. Diagnosis of ADHD, anxiety and depression are more common in adolescents and teens (12-17 years), while behavioral problems tend to be diagnosed more with 6–11 year-olds.
Although anyone is susceptible to mental health issues, certain family, community, and healthcare factors increase the risk of mental health issues in childhood. Factors that can affect a child’s mental health include living below the federal poverty level, parental mental health issues, loss of a close relationship, traumatic event, single-parent household, child abuse, negative family environment (i.e., substance/drug abuse, lack of parental supervision, poor parental attachment, family conflict or dysfunction, etc.)
Mental health concerns on the rise
Mental health issues have been on the rise since before the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2013 and 2019:
- 1 in 11 children was affected by either ADHD or anxiety.
- In kids aged 12-17, 1 in 5 have experienced a major depressive episode.
- Among high school students in 2019, more than 1 in 3 reported feeling sad or hopeless and almost 1 in 5 seriously considered suicide.
Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics published an article calling for an urgent response to the epidemic rates of child and adolescent mental health disorders. They call for better surveillance of childhood trauma and adversary, including structural racism, and their effects on children’s mental health.
Become more mental health aware
Because signs and symptoms of mental health problems can manifest in many ways depending on the type of disorder, it can be hard to know what to look for. To support your child’s mental health, you can encourage them to share their feelings. Then be supportive and, if needed, work through any conflicts your child might have. If you’re a parent or guardian and you suspect your child might be struggling with mental health, talk with a professional. Common childhood conditions include ADHD, anxiety, and depression.
Educate yourself about mental health. If your child, a family member, or a friend get a diagnosis, learn what that means for them. There are many groups where you can get information including the National Federation of Families, Mental Health America and others that were mentioned in this article.
Don’t forget to take care of your own mental health.
How dental professionals can keep an eye on mental health
Research shows that some mental health disorders can result in neglect of oral hygiene and other health conditions, leading to a higher prevalence of tooth decay and gum disease. Some, such as eating disorders, can even be evident in a patient’s mouth. Mental health awareness needs to be understood and recognized by dental professionals through interprofessional collaboration, empathy and acceptance, and shared-decision making. There are ways to treat patients with eating disorders and depression, with the most important thing being to be supportive and understanding with the patient.