COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONS: Children and Mental Health in Cook CountyMay 13, 2022 09:13AM ● By Laura Durenberger
By: Grace Bushard, Cook County Public Health and Human Services Children & Family Services Supervisor - May 13, 2022
Parents, caregivers, and those that work with children have all experienced the wonder, joy and at times challenges of connecting with children. 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.
- Developing ways to cope when problems arrive.
Almost all children grow well and healthy, both physically and emotionally, into adulthood. Yet 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, consistent 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.
COVID and Mental Health
The effects of COVID on mental health for both adults and children has been significant. Children and youth have spent over two years cut off from typical activities and learning experiences. The disruption to routines, education, recreation, as well as concern for family income and health, may leave many young people feeling afraid, angry, and concerned for their future. As adults, it is important to demonstrate compassion and understanding for our children and youth.
How we as adults can help
One of the best things you can do to keep your child mentally healthy is to take care of your own mental health. Not only will you be modeling the habits that improve mental health, but you'll also be creating a healthier environment for your child.
Remember, kids look to parents, caregivers and important adults to know how to deal with stressful and anxiety-provoking situations. Make sure you not only address any mental health issues but also take time to relax and
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 the May 17, 2022 PHHS Board Meeting at 8:30 a.m. in the Cook Commissioners Room. PHHS Board Meetings are available to livestream and view on the Cook County website at www.co.cook.mn.us. You can also find us on [email protected] 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