I have been writing stories about children’s mental health for many years. That started even before I had kids whose symptoms made me realize they needed help handling anxiety. Today on Bell Let’s Talk Day I am reminded how important it is to keep talking. 1 in 5 struggle with mental health issues. That’s 1 in 5 kids too.
In our family I know way more about anxiety than I ever wanted, or intended to learn. My older daughter has an anxiety disorder. My mother had one too. My daughter’s journey to understand her own anxiety has been challenging, but she is now in high school and doing so much better than she ever did before in elementary school. Her anxiety began to be really apparent to us at the age of 6 and we sought treatment after treatment for several years and then it went away again for a bit or seemed to be under control. It flared at 9 to 10 and things came up periodically. There was a period of time when she complained of illness every day before school. And then it really started to take over when my daughter was about 12 years old. That was the year she took her worry out on her eyebrows and literally pulled them out at school.
Youth ages 12-13, going through puberty, transitioning to teenage years, with high school looming, seem to often experience an explosion in symptoms. I learned that when we did a youth anxiety group together for much of 2014. ALL of the children in the group were 12 and 13. Some worried about so many random things. One worried about being accused of being a racist or being politically incorrect at school and getting in trouble for that. Many worried over needles. Some were extremely paralyzed thinking about death. And OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) was astonishingly present in at least 3 of the youth we met.
There are still many times when we see odd little quirks and behaviours that tell us our daughter is having an anxious time. But during intensive youth group therapy over one and half years ago we all learned several strategies that help her and she usually takes those to heart and applies them to her every day activities. My kids are both brave and resilient, even when they don’t recognize that in themselves. I am proud of how hard they work every day just to be present at school and able to learn, or socialize, or both.
This year my daughter is doing extremely well in high school. Her school has some amazing strategies in place for ALL of the students. I am super impressed with how the Catholic Secondary School she attends in our city has approached mental health for every student. Every week my daughter visits with a therapy dog at school for a short time and that is a service provided to many students with mental or physical health needs. 1 in 5 kids struggle with mental health issues. That is a staggering number of kids walking around with worry too big for their shoulders. Just this week for exams the school brought in five therapy dogs to help all the students feel less stressed out about exams. Chaplaincy team handed out little pep note exam packets that were really sweet and Pinterest-worthy. Today my daughter said the Foods class came around with bananas and apples to make sure kids were remembering to eat healthy foods during exams. I am grateful for that kind of progress. But we still have a ways to go as a society before we are able to understand that taking care of your brain is every bit as important as taking care of your body. So let’s keep talking, especially today for Bell Let’s Talk Day.
My Five Favourite Children’s Mental Health Posts
This was the start of me talking about childhood anxiety and children’s mental health in our family. This piece was published a few years ago in Today’s Parent. I am also grateful media like Today’s Parent take children’s mental health very seriously.
This was what we learned as a result of the youth group we took part in every Tuesday for the greater part of the year in 2014.
And this one was very specific – regarding needle phobia which we tackled with exposure and relaxation therapy. But that journey was a LONG one. I had almost grown to accept that my child would just be anxious about needles for life. I figured it didn’t really matter than much because she could live a life without needing to dwell on it. Except there are a tonne of new vaccines for kids in grades 7/8. So they needed to address this one with us so she could be healthy. Also I learned this is one of the MOST common phobias for adults and children.
and Some of the Bravest People I know are Children from the PCMH conference one year: Anxiety
If your child has symptoms of anxiety or depression, please get them help. Call your local children’s hospital, or ask your family doctor for a referral to someone who can help them handle this now. If a child broke their leg we’d get a cast or surgery to help repair the break…brains are no different.