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How to Support a Child Who is Struggling with their Mental Health

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Mental health counseling is one of the most valuable tools at your disposal, and when it comes to children and young adults, it is more important than ever to fight the stigma associated with depression, anxiety, and other issues and teach them about counseling. 

So, with this in mind and regardless of how and why the child is in this situation and how much or indeed how little they are currently being assisted, continue reading to learn some key ways to support a child who is currently going through mental health issues and is considering counseling. 

Strive for Honest & Open Communication At All Times

Whether the child has always had issues and problems with their levels of emotional health and well-being, or else they have only recently been showing signs, or been diagnosed, with depression, anxiety, or another mental health condition, one thing is for sure: communication is essential. 

It is often the case that people of all ages, and certainly not just children, feel as if they will be laughed at, ignored, or judged in some way if they talk about how they are feeling, and due to the still-existent stigma surrounding mental health, this is understandable.

There is no possible way for you to know if the child you are concerned about is actually experiencing a diagnosable mental health condition or is just experiencing a low, down period. If they do not feel as if they can tell you anything and be received with love and kindness, then getting professional help is key, as they can help you determine this. 

Communication with a child, especially if you are not their parent or guardian, can often be tricky, so learn the following tips in an effort to help you:

  1. Actively display visible signs of listening not just with your eyes and verbal cues but your whole body, and be careful of your body language to ensure you appear warm and open.
  2. Be sure to actively and verbally acknowledge how the child is feeling and show empathy all the time when talking to them.
  3. Attempt, as best as humanly possible, to approach the situation solely from the child’s point of view, especially in the initial stages when they are explaining how they are feeling.
  4. Encourage the child to give you some ideas on how they feel the situation can be improved and work together to find a practical, simple and effective solution.
  5. Always remember that if their mental health remains low, you should think about contacting a medical professional so they can check and diagnose any mental health illness which can be treated with medications, therapy, or a combination of the two.

Encourage the Child to Speak to a School Counselor

Back in the proverbial day, the role of a school counselor basically centered around a stiff and starchy woman far beyond schooling years who was judgmental and old-fashioned in their views and advice. School counseling has moved beyond this and is still going through many changes even now, meeting the demands and challenges that modern life has bought. School counselors do more than the previous generation of counselors did, including checking up on students not attending virtual classes, helping with college decisions, working with groups or individuals, and being a support. 

This means the role of a school counselor is far more prominent in daily school life, not just for the children and students but for the teachers and other school staff as well. Encouraging the child to approach the school counselor may well be the best course of action moving forward if you are unable, or more pertinently the child in question is unwilling, to build an open line of communication with yourself. Furthermore, if the child is already seeing a mental health counselor outside of school or is considering doing so, talking to the school counselor is a fantastic step in the right direction. 

Encourage Physical Activity

Contrary to popular belief, but in actual fact quite logical when you come to think about it, the physical health and fitness levels of your child’s body can directly affect, in a direct and indirect manner, the strength of their emotional health and well-being. 

For children, in particular, a physical outlet for their emotions is not only advisable, but it is also more like an absolutely essential part of helping them through this low period of mental health, and it would be a good idea to work together to plan a physical activity which both suits how they feel and their personality type. 

Physical activity directly affects mental health in children just as much as it does for adults and the elderly in the following four fundamental ways:

  • A reduction in feelings of anxiety and some types of depression
  • A way to naturally boost and generally improve mood and negative thoughts
  • An outlet to release anger and frustration in a positive and healthy way
  • A way to try and combat OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)

Always Provide Encouragement, Energy & Positive Feedback

Often, especially if your son, daughter, niece, nephew, a child in your class at school, or whatever the connection is between the two of you, it can sometimes be relatively easy to assume that the child knows and fully understands how much you love them and how proud you are of them. 

In reality, even if you feel these emotions on a constant basis, your child needs to be told these things instead of you just assuming that they know, so be much more proactive in how much you show your support. Furthermore, it is also strongly advisable, particularly for children who have been diagnosed with one or more mental health disorders, to praise them to encourage positive reinforcement and fill them with their own sense of self-esteem and pride. 

Boundaries & Routine Are Essential

Not to crudely compare your family dog to a child in any way, but there is one similarity that is certainly worth noting, and it centers around the importance of routine and boundaries.

If you or indeed your partner, close friend, or other family member has ever experienced the crippling existential doom of depression, for example, you will know how quickly and how easily you fall into a pit of your brain’s own making. For this reason, when speaking to the child in your life about matters relating to how they are feeling and their emotions, you should plan a more rigorous and active schedule together and have set bedtimes. 

Validate Mental Health & Fight the Stigma

In the proverbial old days, it was the case that if any child spoke of feelings of sadness, doom and gloom, they would simply be told they were being unnecessarily melancholic and trying to get out of something or even making it up for attention and rewards.

The unfortunate but very real, unwavering truth of this is that children used to be treated like this, but even today, many adults, both in this country and internationally, still do not believe that mental issues such as depression and anxiety even exist. 

So, with this in mind, you should not only be sure to actively and verbally validate matters pertaining to mental health to the child but also strive to fight the harmful stigma that is still attached. You can do this in the following ways:

  • Be honest about any mental health treatment that you are having, and never be ashamed.
  • Be conscious of the language, phrases, and terms you use when talking about mental health.
  • Always choose to empower the child rather than ever project even a hint of shame or embarrassment.
  • Always show empathy and compassion for anybody that has been diagnosed with depression.
  • Essentially, always encourage complete equality between mental and physical illness.
  • Show people in your life who wrongly believe matters relating to mental health and well-being to be purely psychosomatic the often-shared photograph of a brain scan, comparing a depressed brain with a non-depressed one.

How to Help Your Child with Their Depression Diagnosis

If it is indeed your own child who has been recently diagnosed with depression and you are thinking about ways in which you can help them through this time, then there are a number of things you can do, some of which may work well and others which may not be applicable as have been highlighted in this article.

You can try many methods and techniques to get your child to be honest and open with you regarding how they are feeling and what emotions they’re experiencing.

First and foremost, it is important to know and recognize the warning signs that accompany an issue with mental health, and you should record and remember to tell the counselor about such symptoms when the time comes.

The main warning signs of low mood and depression in children include a general lack of interest, noticeable changes in their eating habits, aches and fatigue, withdrawal, and isolation. Other, perhaps less noticeable, warning signs include lower grades at school, a general lack of motivation and energy. 

Counseling is absolutely the best course of action if your child is showing signs of two or more symptoms and warning signs, and while you are waiting for their first appointment, ensure that they are eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep.

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