Updated: May 24, 2022
July is National Minority Mental Health Month. This month, The Aafiyah Project is helping parents begin discussing feelings and emotions with their children (ages 2-6) through a series of art projects, videos, playtime activities and story time. As parents, we tend to focus a lot on the physical health, but also need to keep in mind that mental health is also an essential part of our children’s health. Both mental and physical health affects how children think, feel, and act on the inside and outside (1).
What exactly is “mental health?” The Mayo Clinic describes mental health as “the overall wellness of how you think, regulate your feelings and behave” (2). Thus, mental illness or mental disorder can be described as “serious changes in the way children typically learn, behave, or handle their emotions, which cause distress and problems getting through the day” (3). The three most common mental health disorders amongst children include:
Anxiety Disorder – persistent fears, worries, or anxiety that disrupt a child’s ability to participate in play, school or typical age-appropriate social situations. Diagnoses include social anxiety, generalized anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – difficulty with attention, impulsive behaviors, hyperactivity or a combination of these stated problems.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – a neurological condition with varying severity that makes an appearance in early childhood (usually before age 3), with the child having difficulty communicating and interacting with others (2).
The Office of Minority Health notes that minorities are less likely to receive diagnosis and treatment for their mental illness. We also tend to have less access to mental health services and too often receive a poorer quality of mental health care (4). Some of the things that can help parents recognize mental health illness in their children include changes in the way their children play with other children, difference in their learning and speaking abilities, and how they handle their emotions.
It is important to note that not all children experiencing some of the aforementioned symptoms do indeed have a mental illness. Sometimes, these changes or presentation could be signs of acting out or a response to changes in the child’s environment, trauma, a child’s inability to properly express themselves, or simply the child just being a toddler. The best way to differentiate between a mental health disorder and your child just being a child is by talking to them about their emotions, helping them recognize what is causing certain reactions, and observing their behavior and learning and speaking ability over time. If you do notice any changes in your child please contact your child’s healthcare provider to discuss these changes, diagnosis, and treatment.
1. American Psychological Association. (2009). Retrieved July 13, 2020. Children's Mental Health: Why Is Children's Mental Health Important? Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/pi/families/children-mental-health
2. Mayo Clinic. (2020, February 26). Retrieved July 13, 2020. Healthy Lifestyle: Children's Health. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/mental-illness-in-children/art-20046577
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2020, March 30). Retrieved July 13, 2020. Children’s Mental Health: What are childhood mental disorders? Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/basics.html
4. The Office of Minority Health. (2020, June 30). Mental Health Disparities. Retrieved from https://www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/content.aspx?ID=9447
Written by Ramotalai Coker