The most recent articles on MYPOLARLIFE have implied a focus on adults, but I shift the focus toward children in this article because mental health starts much earlier than as an adult who has been diagnosed as depressed. In fact, preventative measures should be taken as early as possible. We should be talking to our kids about how they feel emotionally in the same ways we address their tummy aches. It is never really too early to instill healthy dialogue about mental health, especially among children who have faced traumatic situations. Even more, we have to break away from dialogue that minimizes an individual’s personal experiences.
Mental health influences a child’s ability to function in the world—their world—namely their interactions at home with family, at school with friends, and their overall ability to succeed in those realms that occupy all of their time. To be sure, we have to understand the ways in which mental health influences physical health and the reverse. The American Psychology Association provides a prime example of the ways in which the two work together:
“An overweight young boy who is teased about his weight may withdraw socially and become depressed and may be reluctant to play with others or exercise, which further contributes to his poorer physical health and as a result poorer mental health.”
This example may be one that we are all actually familiar with, if not by our own understanding then by that of a relative or friend. In my own experience, I am usually in better spirits when I am active, and I have learned to go outside or go to the gym or to do some yoga when I am feeling down. And though medication may be necessary and encouraged for some, others may simple need to play an active game at the park after sitting down at a school desk for most of the day. The APA emphasizes that ignoring this mental-physical relationship can lead to problems down the road as an adult, so addressing mental health early is essential for overall health, wellness, safety, and productivity later in life.
Like the previous articles have mentioned, mental health is often about access. All of our children need access to engaging mental health resources within their communities that allow a safe space to talk about what they may be experiencing. However, not all children are afforded these opportunities through their schools and community health centers. Particularly children in underserved communities lack these resources, and the lack of facilities is contributing to a growing problem among young people of color. While, historically, suicide rates have been higher for white people in all age groups in the United States, JAMA Pediatrics offers data that confirms that the suicide rates for black children ages 5 to 12 exceeds that of white children by almost double. So we need to be sure that all children are given the opportunity to communicate their experiences in a healthy way. We need to encourage our schools to offer services, we need to fight for mental health within community centers and hospitals that our children attend, and we need to ask for psychological assessments and assistance among private practices through programs that provide other free health benefits for communities in need.