Our Children's Mental Health Starts at Home
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Does talking about mental health make you uncomfortable? Like who wants to be called loco, right? Mental health does not only refer to going crazy. In fact, it often means learning how to handle thoughts and feelings that are affecting your life in a not-good way.
For kids, mental health issues can be a disaster. They not only make your child’s (and your family’s) present life difficult, but they can affect your child’s ability to have a successful future.
What’s the Problem?
The national Latino-focused organization Salud America found “Latino youth are far more likely than their peers to have mental health issues, which often go unaddressed and untreated.” So what’s bothering your kids?
“Things like parents getting a divorce,” said María Ballón, Community Relations & Patient Engagement Advocate for Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JFCS), “kids starting a new school, separation or deportation of one of the parents. Maybe a parent is losing a home or the parent doesn’t have money to put food on the table or the parent is stressed because of work and the child has to deal with that at home. It could be the death of a parent, grandparent or even a pet.
“A problem in the family can affect our children in ways we do not realize,” Ballón added. “Children internalize their surroundings and blame themselves for situations outside of their control. The good news is there are many organizations to help, including JFCS.”
The health providers at JFCS know well the needs of the Hispanic community. More than a third of JFCS’s patients are Hispanic, and there are no religious or cultural requirements to receive services from this community-based organization. Medicaid pays for all services.
In the Moment
Many kids can’t easily share when something is bothering them, but they often give clues when they need help. Sometimes they’ll be unusually sad or withdrawn; or they might be irritable or angry. Ballón said kids might develop defiant behavior as a call for help.
“Children have different ways of engaging in conversation,” Ballón explained. “For example, we have something called “play therapy” which gives children the opportunity to express their world through the way they play and how they make their toys interact. This is an indirect way of gaining insight on what might be worrying to them.”
Just as kids’ problems sometimes start at home, help can start there too.
“Help comes in many different forms,” Ballón said, “and it starts with being in the moment with kids. That means giving your child your full attention. The TV and radio are off, the mobile phones are in another room and the rest of the family is not around. Children need to feel like they’re seen and heard and be reassured they are loved no matter what. The important thing with kids is that they have a consistent adult they see as a safe person, a trustworthy person that loves them unconditionally.”
You may have noticed problems popping up since the COVID-19 pandemic. Julie Wilson, a JFCS clinician who specializes in family and child therapy, said depression, even in young children, has been an issue that has come up commonly.
“The limitations that COVID-19 placed on children’s social structure has created barriers for children to learn, grow and express themselves,” Wilson explained. “Another issue was being forced to stay indoors and stay still in front of a computer screen to complete the school day. Young children are not mentally or psychologically prepared to stay still like that, and it creates frustration and acting-out behaviors.”
You’ll see signs if one of your kids is dealing with depression. They might be irritable, not interested in doing things they used to like, eating more or less than normal, sleeping more or having trouble sleeping.
Is It Time?
If you can relate to any of the topics discussed in this article, maybe it’s time to get help. Isn’t your family worth it? The best place to start is to share with your child’s provider what’s going on. Providers can help connect you to resources in the community, and Medicaid covers every single cost.
If you’re not happy with any of your family’s providers, you can change them at any time. No questions asked. All you need to do is take a moment to call the number on your insurance card and request a change or call Equality Health.