May is Mental Health Awareness Month. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 1 in 10 children ages 8 to 15 and 1 in 5 teens ages 13 to 18 experience a severe mental disorder in a given year. As educators and counselors, we often work with families and community agencies to provide care to children diagnosed with a mental illness. Below are tips for supporting and advocating for young people diagnosed with a mental illness.
Use Person-First Language
People are so much more than a diagnosis. When talking about mental disorder, it is important to put the person before the diagnosis. Instead of saying “autistic child,” person-first language would be “child diagnosed with autism.” Lead by example and educate others about the power of putting the person first.
If you work in a school or an agency, you may notice certain diagnoses are more prevalent in the population you serve. Determine which diagnoses are most prevalent and provide staff with information, resources, and best practices for working with individuals you serve. By educating staff and giving them resources, they will be better able to meet the needs of the population and be able to recognize symptoms of mental illnesses.
Connect with Community Resources
Chances are many organizations in your community serve the needs of individuals diagnosed with a mental illness. Contact agencies and organizations to request information to disseminate at open houses and have available for families. You can even invite speakers from different community organizations to do a workshop or training about common mental illnesses.
Support Parents and Caregivers
Parents and caregivers can feel overwhelmed when a child is diagnosed with a mental illness. They may feel they are in some way to blame or not know how to care for the child. Determine what parents and families need and connect them with resources to support them and their child.
Listen to Young People
Reach out to children diagnosed with mental illness and ask them what they need. Young people diagnosed with a mental illness may have specific needs that are not being addressed by your school or agency. Listening to and allowing them to communicate their needs empowers them.
What other ways do you support and advocate for children diagnosed with mental illness?
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National Alliance on Mental Health
Mayo Clinic: Mental illness in children: Know the signs
Teen Mental Health Organization
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