There’s no minimum age for experiencing a mental health condition.
Though mental health conditions are often not diagnosed until later in life, they can onset far before that time. For a breakdown of most common mental health conditions affecting youth and their accompanying signs, click here.
Adults can be a major factor in shaping a child's mental health.
A caring and consistent adult’s behavior can protect a child against experiencing poor mental health and development of severe symptoms in the long term.
A child’s mental health may be dismissed as a phase.
Beliefs that a child’s mental health or behavior is tied to their age rather than a more serious mental health problem can lead to lack of treatment and delay a young person's opportunity for recovery.
What do I Need to Know About Youth Mental Health?
Signs a Child or Teen
May Need More Support
If you notice these signs in your young person or a young person with whom you work,
it may be time to seek treatment or additional support.
How do I Talk to a Young Person?
First, make sure you start the conversation with the right tools.
It’s always the right time to ask how a child is feeling. However, when a child starts behaving in ways that aren't typical for them, including sudden or harmful changes, this conversation becomes more urgent. Some of these changes include:
• Using alcohol or drugs to get through tough experiences
• Binging or restricting eating in response to emotions
• Talking about death or an interest in suicide
• Self-harm including burning, scratching, cutting, pulling hair
• Purposely seeking out risks that put themselves in harm’s way
• Extremely low motivation, energy, and sadness
Guidelines for a conversation around a child's mental health.
Blame a child for their behavior or pass judgment on their behavior. This conversation opens with an accusation, which is hurtful and can make a child feel like they need to defend themselves.
Make sure that the child is open to a conversation and that you are using "I' statements to communicate objective observations. Lead with curiosity by using open-ended questions.
How is the Covid-19 Pandemic
Affecting Mental Health for Youth?
The Covid-19 Pandemic has been a difficult time for many people. Lots of young people struggled with their mental health during the height of the pandemic, and are still struggling today. Stay-at-home orders meant young people were seeing fewer people, sleeping too much or not enough, and spending more time using screens for educational purposes, all of which can affect mental wellness. During the pandemic, 44% of children in Chicago ages 2-11 have experienced an increase in at least one mental or behavioral health symptom; and more than a third of high school students have reported experiencing poor mental health.
What can you do?
Modeling and practicing healthy coping strategies is a great way to help young people who may be struggling with their mental health. Think about your self-care strategies and wellness tools– can you invite the young person in your life to join you when you practice them? Self care strategies and wellness tools vary in effectiveness from person to person, and it often takes a while to figure out what works best. Take your time and experiment with different options for yourself and the young person you care for. Start by asking what makes the young person you’re trying to help feel well and relaxed–and then you can build time for that wellness activity each day!
Wellness Strategies for You
Taking care of yourself and fostering your own wellness is an essential part of caring for others. Creating a wellness practice looks unique depending on who you are and what works best for you - here are some ideas to get you started:
Have questions or want help planning your own strategies?
Call the NAMI Chicago Helpline 833-626-4244 or check out our groups and classes.