Hi Mommas! Mother’s Day has just passed and my heart is overflowing with gratitude for my three precious children. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and so I wanted us to spend a little time thinking about that. We use the words “self-care” a lot lately. They are important words, and taking care of mental health is part of self-care. As moms, we are usually the first to notice if something is “off” in our domain. The saying is, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” but Mama has radar. Mama knows if somebody else ain’t happy. But the older our kids get, it gets harder to tell because they don’t come to us for everything anymore.
Mom’s Mental Health
Moms, just like they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first in an airplane and then assist any children traveling with you, we need to take care of our own mental health first. See your doctor, talk about your life, get help for your stressors. You may want to take up a relaxation practice that calms your mind, exercise, see a therapist, or join a support group or book club. Your doctor may determine that you are depressed or anxious, and medication may be necessary. Then you’ll be ready and able to notice if mental health issues pop up in your kids.
Children Can Have Emotional Issues Too
Children are so resilient. They usually bounce back from all the usual childhood ailments and incidents, seemingly no worse for the wear. These days, we moms can stay well informed with the information on the internet at our fingertips. We know about the terrible twos. We’ve heard about the “imagination awakens threes” and how that can lead to nightmares and phobias. And about concrete thinking, where a thing is just THAT THING and jokes don’t even make sense, until they do, suddenly! But then, there are times that trouble us and we worry about the mental health of our children.
Mental Health Problems Have Many Causes
Anxious thoughts can begin to affect the mental health of children of young ages (“imagination awakes threes,” for example). Children can begin experiencing depression around the age they begin middle school. Things happen in life that may affect a child’s mood or behavior: a move, a change in schools, the loss of a friend, the loss of a family member or pet, divorce, remarriage, adoption, illness, bullying, abuse, natural disasters. Some mental health problems might even be inherited, or the result of trauma.
Some Signs From Children That Help Might Be Needed
Being around your kids a lot, you know what they are like. Most of the time you, as a mom, can predict what comes next. Even when you’ve been out, as soon as you walk in the front door you are probably able to accurately guess who’s where doing what, and you’d be right.
So, the signs are the things that are UNexpected and UNusual:
- Passes up on their favorite foods
- Has nothing to report after school when they used to have the best stories
- Is “cold” all the time and wears long-sleeved everything
- Needs a nightlight
- Never wants to go anywhere
- Never leaves their room
- Grades have suddenly fallen
- Is constantly yelling, “Leave me alone!”
- Is always tired
- Eats a half gallon of ice cream, a big batch of cookies, french fries or other comfort food constantly
- Is awake all night, or sleeps too much
- Has perfect grades, does community service, is always there for their friends, but complains about feeling stressed
- Is suddenly losing or gaining weight
Any one or a combination of these things could indicate a mental health issue for your child(ren).
Where to Start for Mental Health Help
If you think your child might be experiencing a mental health problem, your first advocate is their pediatrician. Pediatricians are very knowledgeable about asking the right questions and making referrals to the right specialist if one is needed. And you, Momma, will have begun a new journey with your child on the road to good mental health.
The National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMI), Mental Health America, The National Council for Behavioral Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America offer a variety of resources for further reading on this topic.
Author’s Note: The author of this article is not a trained mental health facilitator but has had experience dealing with those in that field. The websites cited are neither endorsed nor supported by the author, but only offered as a source of further information.