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May is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month!

Child holding parent's hand

Children’s Mental Health Month presents an opportunity to take a closer look at the emotional and mental well-being of children, today. Our society appears to have adapted a more progressive sociological approach to protecting children through labor laws and legislature that prosecutes aggressors and predators. However, American society has been slow to classify children’s mental health as a priority. This may be, in part, because people are unclear as to the issues related to children’s mental health. Therefore, while many would agree that the mental health of a child is of paramount importance, the complex and time-intensive issues are often misunderstood, mishandled, and misrepresented.

People who are not familiar with the intricacies of children’s mental health routinely categorize it as a political or social issue that pertains to bullying, school violence, malnutrition, eating disorders, suicide, substance abuse, and other dramatic conditions and events. While these are all important issues, they are also subjects that are sensational “attention grabbers” and often become diluted in topical debates that use general terms and bias.

Children’s Mental Health actually is mostly psychological in nature and looks at a range of issues, including – but not limited to – children’s day-to-day well-being, life stage development, cognitive and neurological functioning, behavioral issues, and the ability to regulate boundaries and emotions. Additionally, understanding children’s mental health requires understanding a child’s upbringing. Some of these issues may include a child’s mother’s health, prenatal conditions that affect brain development, the conditions of the birth itself, postpartum adjustment, mother child attachment, developmental milestones, the home environment and environmental stressors, family boundaries, family roles, communication skills, the health of the parent’s marriage, as well as peer group assessments and academic performance.

There is a great deal that government policy can accomplish, which would positively impact our children’s mental health. An increase in minimum wage, improved health benefits, nutritional guidance, maternity wellness programs, and creative education would be welcome additions that would provide a better quality of life to mothers and families, and which would then inevitably improve children’s lives.

In order to truly address the mental health of children, we first must clarify what is meant by “children’s mental health.” We must assimilate the culture of child psychology, and normalize the attention to children’s mental health. We need as much devotion to routine attention as we give to crisis intervention. We must embrace what is purposeful and meaningful about understanding and supporting the mental health of children.

Article By Nicholas Strouse, Director of Westport Family Counseling

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