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COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONS: Children and Mental Health in Cook County

Sep 24, 2021 09:07AM ● By Editor

By Grace Bushard, Cook County Public Health and Human Services Children & Family Services Supervisor from Cook County MN - September 24, 2021 

Parents, caregivers, and those that work with children have all experienced the wonder, joy and at times challenges of connecting with children. It is all part of being human! We all enter the world with the need to connect, learn and make sense of the world around us with all that we have been given.  A good definition of children’s mental health is: 

  • reaching emotional and developmental milestones,
  • learning healthy social skills and 
  • developing ways to cope when problems arrive. 

Most children grow well and healthy - physically and mentally – into adulthood. Every person is different and sometimes children face obstacles or risk factors that contribute to emotional distress. Risk factors make some children and youth more likely to experience mental health problems. These risk factors may include:

  • having a long-term physical illness
  • a parent who has had mental health problems, problems with alcohol or has been in trouble with the law
  • the death of someone close to them
  • parents who separate or divorce
  • experiencing severe bullying or physical or sexual abuse
  • poverty or homelessness
  • experiencing racism and discrimination
  • caring for a relative, taking on adult responsibilities

Experiencing any of these risk factors listed does not mean your child will develop mental health symptoms or a mental health disorder. There are many factors that help children learn to cope and grow well and the most important factor is having a loving, caring (not perfect!) adult in their life who provides support and structure. If risk factors exist, staying connected with your child and noticing your child’s moods, behaviors, and emotions is very important and can help get services and support early when concerns come up. 

When should a parent or caregiver be concerned about their child?

Many children occasionally experience fears and worries or display disruptive behaviors. Mental health disorders among children are described as serious changes in the way children typically learn, behave, or handle their emotions, which cause distress and problems getting through the day. When symptoms become serious and persistent and interfere with school, home, or play activities, the child may be diagnosed with a mental disorder.

Who should you talk to if you have concerns about your child’s mental health?

A good place to start is with your school counselor or child’s teacher, health care provider or behavioral health providers such as a therapist or a social worker.  All these people are here to help understand what is going on with your child and discuss options for supporting and responding to your child’s needs. 

Parents and caregivers of children with mental health disorders also need support and it is helpful to discuss your worries and concerns with trusted friends and family. Another great resource for parents is the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI offers one to one support, groups, and information. You can reach NAMI resources at www.nami.org

And of course, talk to your child. Stay connected and express your support even when things are difficult.  Stay connected to the people that are important in your child’s life and in your life. 

Childhood mental disorders can be treated and managed and there is support for you and your child. You are not alone. 

Learn more about children’s mental health services in Cook County and the Public Health and Human Services (PHHS) department at a PHHS Board Meeting. PHHS Board Meetings are available to livestream and view on the Cook County website at www.co.cook.mn.us. Follow us on Facebook @CookCountyPHHS to learn more about public health and human services resources in Cook County.  

County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service

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