Mental Health & Our Kids: Here’s what parents should know

Once a parent or guardian has identified that their child needs help, the next step is starting a conversation with them.

Channel 9′s Elsa Gillis spoke with a licensed clinical social worker who shared valuable tips for parents.

“I think it’s important to normalize that we have a range of feelings and that sometimes we’re going to be happy, sometimes we’re going to be excited,” said Justin Perry, with Perry Counseling, Healing and Recovery. “But also, sometimes we’re going be sad, sometimes we’re going to be hurt, angry, embarrassed and all of those are OK.”

As children grow older, Perry said parents need to talk to them about paying attention to when their feelings change and to let them know they can talk to them or to other trusted adults when they’re having a hard time.

“We normalize it the same way we normalize getting cuts and scrapes and everything else like that,” Perry told Gillis.

Perry said it’s also important to encourage other healthy habits, such as:

  • Spending time outdoors.
  • Getting physical activity.
  • Eating a balanced diet.
  • Ensuring they get enough sleep.
  • Respecting the challenges of youth (Don’t minimize the stress in their world).
  • Allowing time to play.

“Things are so over-planned for a lot of our kids, and I think it’s important for them to be able to rest and to play,” Perry said.

As parents start to have those hard conversations with their children, they should also know the warning signs, such as:

  • Sharing thoughts of suicide.
  • Statements about wanting to die, be dead or self-harm.
  • Strong feelings that they may never get better.
  • Withdrawal from everyone and everything, or feeling unusually angry.

He also said it’s important to be curious and ask questions, while creating a judgment-free and safe zone. Children need to know that they will be loved no matter what and they don’t have to be perfect.

It’s important they know there is help. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Ask them if they are OK and listen.
  • Tell them you are worried and concerned, and that they are not alone.
  • Get other people involved, like a counselor.

Q&A: Novant Health pediatrician discusses challenges they face in ER

Getting help from a licensed professional can be critical within 48 hours of a crisis, but it is a challenge.

Mental Health America ranked all 50 states on their responses to children with mental illness and access to care. North Carolina ranked very low -- at 42nd -- and South Carolina ranked at 35th.

A lot of times, families resort to their emergency room for help. Channel 9′s Damany Lewis spoke to Dr. Catherine Sauls Ohmstede, a pediatrician with Novant Health, on the challenges families are facing.

As a pediatrician, have you or your colleagues experienced a spike in mental health issues in your patients since the pandemic?

Ohmstede: “We sure have at Novant in Charlotte. We have seen almost a two-and-a-half-fold increase in visits for anxiety and depression in 2022 vs. 2019.”

When you say, two-and-a-half-fold, that is a dramatic increase -- what are some of the reasons for that increase?

Ohmstede: “A lot of it has to do with the vulnerabilities that families fear. There have been so many factors that have affected family life -- the physical threat of COVID, to the social isolation, worries about children’s education, especially in the vulnerable developmental years, like kindergarten and first-grade children who might not have been thriving in virtual school. Parents worried about them catching up. Adolescents worrying about social skills they might not have developed or social connections.”

Ohmstede said doctors are also seeing an increase in children with suicidal thoughts and eating disorders. She said many young patients have been showing up in the emergency rooms at Novant hospitals, and children of color are being hit harder.

“We saw much higher severity of illness and much higher death rates in communities of color, so children had experienced tremendous trauma. It’s estimated about nearly 150,000 children lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19. That number is estimated 10 million children worldwide. A large number of that is in communities of color,” Ohmstede said.

Doctors said it’s important for parents to take care of themselves as well, so they can really be there for their children.


(WATCH BELOW: Anchor Erica Bryant speaks with clinical social worker about mental health)

Comments on this article