With kids nationwide either already back in school or soon to be, parents are busily charting carpool schedules and bracing for homework wars. While this can be a stressful time of year for moms and dads, it can be even more so for students. That’s why Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services is working to increase awareness about signs of mental-health issues and associated action steps.
“We think it’s important to remind parents that their back-to-school to do lists also should include paying attention to their children’s mental health,” says Hathaway-Sycamores’ Senior Executive Vice President Debbie Manners. Manners adds that children’s and adolescents’ mental-health issues often go unrecognized or ignored. In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):
- Only 20% of children with mental disorders are identified and receive mental-health services.
- Approximately 50% of students age 14 and older who are living with a mental illness drop out of high school.
“As a means of reducing the high number of children and teens who aren’t being diagnosed or treated, Hathaway-Sycamores provides on-campus, mental-health services,” Manners explains. Currently, Hathaway-Sycamores provides such services – including one-on-one, group, and family counseling – to elementary, middle school, and high school students in the Alhambra, Los Angeles, and the Pasadena Unified School Districts. Hathaway-Sycamores’ on-campus clinicians and youth counselors additionally help students manage stress, excel academically, as well as develop skills in relation to anger management, conflict resolution, and general coping.
Manners further notes that, “Several years ago, our clinicians noticed a significant uptick in referrals for therapeutic services among students transitioning from eighth to ninth grade. In response, Hathaway-Sycamores created a program called Fresh Start, which is held over summer break.” Topics covered in the summer session include: fears related to starting high school; confidence and self-esteem; communication skills; positive peer relationships; decision-making and problem-solving skills; coping skills and managing stress; organization and study skills.
“We’re the only area agency offering a program like this,” says Manners, “and student participation has increased every year.”
Although there are many types of mental illness and symptoms can be as unique as the youngster experiencing them, the NAMI offers the following list of potential warning signs:
- A sudden or continuous drop in school performance
- Persistently aggressive behavior
- Threatening to harm oneself or others
- Marked mood swings
- Hallucinations, paranoia, or delusions
- Acting very withdrawn, sad, or overly anxious
- Extreme difficulty interacting with other people
- Significant changes in sleeping or eating patterns
- Increased or habitual use of alcohol or drugs
According to NAMI, the most common mental-health conditions in children are adolescents are:
- Anxiety disorders (obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder)
- Mood disorders (depression, bipolar disorder)
- Substance-use disorders
- Eating disorders
- Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
- Autism spectrum Disorders
If you’re a parent who’s concerned about your child’s mental health, Hathaway-Sycamores suggests first talking with your pediatrician in order to rule out any physical-health conditions as a cause. If there are no physical issues, you will likely be referred to a mental-health specialist, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, or social worker. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health, other resources include: community mental-health centers; hospital psychiatry departments and outpatient clinics; mental-health programs at universities or medical schools; state hospital outpatient clinics; private clinics and facilities; employee assistance programs; local medical and/or psychiatric societies.