Children's Mental Health - There is No Health without Mental Health
All children have mental health, even infants and young children. Mental health is connected to social, emotional, and cognitive development and is the foundation for a healthy life. For children, mental health is grounded in early experiences and caring relationships. Children with strong mental health are equipped to develop important skills that begin in early childhood.
While genetics is one part of the picture that makes up our mental health, science is showing us that the little things we do to connect with each other makes a big difference in our overall health. And that is great news!
Caring relationships promote:
- Healthy brain development.
- Coping skills so people can thrive during difficult times.
- A strong and prosperous community!
Brain Architecture – It's Brain Science, Not Rocket Science
An infant's brain doubles in size during the first year of life and is approximately 80% of its adult size by age 3. But the ability of the human brain to develop continues through age 26 and beyond. Whenever we learn something new, our brain makes new connections.
700+ new brain connections are formed every second in early childhood. Adult brains can keep adding connections too.1
Everyone's brain, especially infants and young children, learn best through social interactions with others.
Early experiences affect the development of brain architecture, which provides the foundation for all future learning, behavior, and health. Just as a weak foundation compromises the quality and strength of a house, adverse experiences early in life can impair brain architecture, with negative effects lasting into adulthood.
In the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections form every second. After this period of rapid proliferation, connections are reduced through a process called pruning, which allows brain circuits to become more efficient.2
The Impact of Stress on Brain Architecture
Our brains are very sensitive to stress or trauma. High levels of stress or prolonged stress can reduce the number of brain connections being made, especially in the absence of supportive relationships which help us cope with stress. Children's brains are particularly sensitive to stress because their brains are making lots of new connections.
Click to watch a two-minute video that talks about how our brains are built and how stress can impact that building process.
Other words often used for high levels of stress or prolonged stress are trauma or adversity. Simply defined, trauma is any experience that is overwhelming and/or threatening. What is experienced as trauma is very individualized. What is overwhelming or threatening to one person, may not be experienced that way by another person. What research clearly tells us is that relationships can prevent or minimize the impact of potentially traumatic experiences.
What is Infant Mental Health?
"Infant mental health" refers to how well a child develops socially and emotionally from birth to age three.
5 Things You Should Know About Infant Mental Health
What is Mental Illness?
A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person's thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.
Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion or income. Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. Mental illnesses are treatable. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan.
Common Mental Health Disorders in Children
Children's Mental Health in Iowa – By the Numbers
- Approximately 80,000 children in Iowa have a diagnosed Serious Emotional Disturbance (SED)
- 1 in 5 children ages 13-18 have or will have a serious mental illness
- Approximately 50% of children age 14 and older with a mental illness drop out of high school
- 70% of youth in the juvenile justice system have a mental illness
- In Iowa, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in youth & young adults ages 15-24 (higher than the national average)
- 80% of children with mental health needs never receive treatment
- Post-partum depression affects 1 in 9 women
Ways You Can Help Others Who May Be Struggling with Mental Health
Become familiar with the signs of mental health issues. This can include changes in behavior, mood, motivation, sleeping habits, appetite and concentration. *This is especially hard on parents because all of these symptoms are so common in teenagers! You know your child better than anyone. If something doesn't seem right, seek support and advice from a healthcare professional.
Listen! You don't have to have all the answers.
Support without judging.
Encourage them to seek support from a professional healthcare provider.
Who Do I Call for Help if I'm Worried About My Child?
Our society often assumes that poor or disruptive behavior is a sign of a naughty or undisciplined child. This couldn't be farther from the truth! Concerning behavior in a child is often a sign of an underlying mental health issue. It is also important to realize that a number of children struggling with anxiety often look like the "perfect" child – good behavior, good grades, good friends. Help is available.
There is no "wrong door" for seeking mental health support for your child, so be willing to reach out to others for guidance. A great place to begin is your child's primary health care provider, your child's guidance counselor or school nurse. They can help point you in the right direction to connect with the appropriate resources.
For More Information:
Behavioral Health Services
1 Connections Matter (2019, January 3). Connections Matter: Developing Brain, Relationships, Community. Retrieved from http://www.connectionsmatter.org/
2 Harvard Center for the Developing Child (2019, January 3). Brain Architecture. Retrieved from https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/brain-architecture/