Every year on May 7th, a committed group of private, public, and non-profit organizations join together to celebrate National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day (CMHAD). CMHAD has two primary goals:
- Raise awareness about the importance of children’s mental health
- Show that positive mental health is an essential aspect of child development
This year, more than any year in our recent memory, concerns about the mental health of our children are front and center in the minds of parents, teachers, school counselors, and anyone involved in the life of a child or teenager. We know the coronavirus pandemic disconnected kids from many of the things that make childhood fun. Millions of children across the country miss their school peers, their teachers, and their extracurricular activities. These things are all part of typical, healthy child development, and while their absence doesn’t automatically mean our children will have mental health problems, we know that for some children, missing these things has the potential to create significant psychological and emotional challenges now and in their future.
That’s what makes this year’s theme important. For 2021, organizations like the American Psychological Association (APA) ask parents to get on board and participate in the following initiative:
Text, Talk, Act.
This theme/initiative encourages parents and caregivers to engage in conversations about mental health with their children. Parents influence their children in every way, and if they agree to model healthy, nonjudgmental, supportive, and loving conversations about mental health, then their children will be more likely to speak up when they experience mental health challenges. These conversations will also teach children how to talk to and support their friends and peers when they experience mental health challenges.
In this way, Text, Talk, Act helps everyone.
Childhood Mental Health: Facts and Figures
Many people aren’t aware of the prevalence of mental health issues, mental health disorders, and mental illness among children. While our articles typically focus on adolescent mental health – since we are specialists in adolescent mental health, which means people age 12-17 – this article will include data about children between ages 3-17.
In answer to the question that may have just formed in your mind, yes – it’s possible to identify and diagnose mental health disorders in children as young as three years old. It’s not common, but it is possible. However, the time at which some mental health disorders first appear – called the age of onset – may surprise some people. For instance, the average age of onset for a wide range of anxiety disorders is between age 7-14, with some appearing earlier, and some appearing much later. In contrast, it may not be surprising to learn that the age of onset for attention-related and impulse-control disorders is between age 7-15, with some appearing as late as age 35.
Mental health disorders can appear early in life – that much we know.
But how common are they in children?
Here’s the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Attention, Behavior, Anxiety, and Depress Disorders Among Children and Adolescents (Age 3-17)
- Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): 9.1% or around 6.1 million
- Behavior-related disorder: 7.4% or around 4.5 million
- Anxiety disorder: 7.1% or around 4.4 million
- Depressive disorder: 3.2% or around 1.9 million
Now we’ll share the latest data on co-occurring disorders, which means a child has more than one diagnosed mental health disorder at a time.
Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders Among Children and Adolescents (Age 3-17)
- Depressive disorders and:
- Anxiety. 73.8% of children diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
- Behavior. 47.2% of children diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with a behavior disorder.
- Anxiety disorders and:
- Behavior. 37.9% of children diagnosed with anxiety are also diagnosed with a behavior disorder.
- Depression. 32.3% of children diagnosed with anxiety are also diagnosed with a depressive disorder.
- Behavior disorders and:
- Anxiety. 36.6% of children diagnosed with behavior disorder are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
- Depression. 20.3% of children diagnosed with behavior disorder are also diagnosed with a depressive disorder.
We’ll elaborate on those statistics now, and fill in the gaps where the data are not clear.
The most common attention-related disorder among children is ADHD (which is clear, above), the most common behavior-related disorders are conduct disorder (CD) and oppositional-defiant disorder (ODD), and the most common anxiety disorders are generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (ODD), and specific phobias (fear of the dark, fear of monsters, fear of loud noises such a thunder).
How to Talk to Your Children about Mental Health
For CMHAD 2020, the American Psychological Association (APA) created a helpful guide for parents who want to talk to their teenage children about mental health, but aren’t quite sure how to go about doing it. They divided the guide into two sections: one with tips for parents when the teen initiates the conversation, and one with tips for parents when they want to initiate the conversation. We think these are great little explainers, so we’ll share their tips here.
Tips for Parents: When Your Teen Starts the Talk
- Stay Calm. Keep your cool and listen to what your teen has to say.
- Know that your teen would not start this talk unless it was important to them, and that it may have been hard to work up the courage to do it.
- Listen, support, and legitimize their feelings by repeating back what you hear and letting them know their point of view, their thoughts, and their feelings are important to you.
- Take a break. If you start to get emotional, or your teen gets emotional, take a step back, press pause, and resume the conversation when you both feel calm and centered.
Now for part two: when you want to initiate the conversation.
Tips for Parents: When You Want to Start the Talk
- Prepare. Make sure you know what you want to say, why you want to say it, and be ready to back up your points with easy-to-access and easy-to-understand resources.
- Schedule. Make sure you choose a time when your teen is in the right frame of mind. For most teens, that’s when they’re well-fed, well-rested, and not in the middle of screentime or texting with friends.
- Use “I” statements. When you have specific concerns about their behavior, frame them with “I.” For instance: “I noticed you seem depressed and sad a lot lately. I’m here for you. How can I help?”
For any sensitive conversation with your child or teen, it’s important to listen carefully, communicate your thoughts in a calm, clear manner, and make sure they get the most important message of all: you love them unconditionally and will be there for them no matter what.
Text, Talk, Act: How You Can Get Your Teen Involved
This year for CMHAD, organizers are doing something special: creating a text-based activity designed specifically for teens. The activity will launch on May 7th and stay live for the entire month of May.
Here’s how it works.
Beginning on May 7th, teens can text “APA” to 89800 to start the activity, which includes the following:
- Mental health tips and education
- Help with COVID-19 specific challenges
- Tips for talking to parents about mental health
- Polling questions
- Questions for peer discussion
- Videos on current mental health topics
- Links to social media posts
- Social media discussions
This smartphone-based initiative is organized by the American Psychological Association (APA) in partnership with the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), the National Center for School Mental Health (NCSMH), Action for Healthy Kids, and the School-Based Health Alliance. These organizations are well-established, with a proven track record of providing mental health resources and advocacy efforts service for children, teens, and families.
We think it’s a great idea.
Parents can participate, too: Text, Talk, Act!
Join the movement to help raise awareness about children’s mental health this year. Do it for your teen, for their friends, and for all the children and teens out there who need support, need to know you care and need to know there are millions of people out there who want to help.