Supporting your child’s mental health
It’s been so encouraging these days to see less of a stigma surrounding mental health. While more progress needs to be made, we’ve come a long way from the days where most people hid their anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Openness about this issue has come at the perfect time, because the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in mental health disorders.
In fact, 21% of Canadians who were screened during a survey late in 2020 were found to have at least one of three mental disorders: major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder. And 68% of those people reported worsened mental health during the pandemic.1
Children seem to have been hit especially hard, as 70.2% of 6- to 18-year-olds and 66.1% of 2- to 5-year-olds have reported a significant deterioration in mental health during this time.2 So let’s take a look at the warning signs to look out for in your children, and how you can support them if they’re struggling.
Mental health warning signs in children
Mental illness can be tough to recognize in children, especially if you have a quiet child or a teenager whose surging hormones make them seem cranky or antisocial. But here are some signs to look out for that might point to a need for help:3
• Sadness that lasts two or more weeks
• Avoiding social interaction
• Acting extremely irritable
• Extreme mood, behaviour or personality changes
• Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
• A noticeable change in grades
• Self-harm, or talking about self-harm or suicide
• Noticeable changes in weight or appetite
What to do if your child is struggling
If you’ve noticed any of these warning signs, you should definitely take some action to help them out. Here are some steps to take:4,5
- Talk to them. Ask them how they’re feeling. Gently tell them what you’ve noticed, based on the warning signs above.
- Listen to them. Give them time and space to talk about how they’re feeling, and what they think about your observations.
- Support them. Let them know that they’re loved and that you’re going to do everything you can to get them the help they need to feel better.
- Find a mental health professional. Talk to your child’s doctor about the situation. They can refer your child to a mental health professional, who may provide tools and medication to help with your child’s recovery.
- Educate yourself. Once your child has a diagnosis, get to know as much as you can about their condition, so you can support them and understand what they’re going through.
- Seek your own support. It can be very difficult to deal with a loved one who has a mental health condition. Look for support from family, friends and even online groups.
- Keep things as “normal” as possible. Though you may need to make some changes to your usual routines to accommodate your child’s recovery, do your best to continue to live as “normal” and healthy a family life as possible.
So remember to keep a close eye on your kids’ emotional state, especially during these tough times. With a lot of love and professional help, you can help them get through whatever ails them.
If your child is still feeling overwhelmed, reach out to The Canadian Mental Health Association and their BounceBack® skills program, which teaches skills to help manage depression and anxiety.6
1 Statistics Canada, “Survey on COVID-19 and Mental Health, September to December 2020,” March 18, 2021.
2 sickkids.ca, “New research reveals impact of COVID-19 pandemic on child and youth mental health,” February 26, 2021.
3 mayoclinic.org, “Mental illness in children: Know the signs,” February 26, 2020.
4 ontario.ca, “Children and youth mental health: signs and symptoms,” December 21, 2020.
5 kidsmentalhealth.ca, “Steps to Take After Your Kid’s Mental Health Diagnosis,” March 25, 2020.
6 bouncebackontario.ca, “What is BounceBack®?” 2021.