Back-to-school season can be a challenging time for students of all ages. Entering a new grade – complete with new teachers, friends, responsibilities, and challenges — can create stress a lot of stress. Teenagers preparing to enter their final years of high school, move on to college or enter the workforce are facing immense pressures. As you and your child prepare for the return to school, take time to address their mental and behavioral health needs and concerns.
Behavioral Health Support is Critical
The increased need for behavioral health support in children and young adults is by no means a new issue. However, exacerbated by the pandemic and remote learning, that issue has come to the forefront and reached a more critical level.
Last year, after monitoring the recent trends in behavioral health, Children’s Hospital Colorado declared a mental health state of emergency for youths. Since 2019, they have seen a 103% increase in emergency hospital visits for behavioral health concerns.
Behavioral health professionals across the nation have also seen an increased rate of patients with a regression in social skills and time management; increased instances of suicidal thoughts and self-harm; increased anxiety, depression, and isolation; and increased cases of violence.
Signs of Concern
With the start of school, there are numerous signs of mental health concerns that come into focus:
- Go over your child’s medical history
- difficulty getting restful sleep or sleeping too much
- change in mood such as increased sadness or anxiety
- isolating self and not wanting to be with family or friends like they used to
- changes in appetite
- not acting like themselves
- not as excited about their hobbies and activities they usually enjoy
- concerns for self harm or suicidal thoughts
What can parents, teachers, and helping professions do?
- Validate their experience.
Acknowledge your child’s mixed emotions. They may be excited to get back and see their friends, but anxious about having a new teacher or being with a new group of peers. They may be unsure of their next steps as they finish high school. All of these thoughts and feelings are valid. It is helpful for parents, caregivers and support systems to listen, help problem solve, highlight strengths, and provide reassurance to kids and teens.
- Help them to focus on what they can control.
This could include getting some exercise, hanging out with friends, having a consistent sleep routine, and making time for activities they enjoy such as sports or art. Focusing on the positives and what can go well!
- Create space and support for kids and teens.
Help them feel there is a community of support behind them. Work with them to identify key people in their life that they can come to for support – including you! If the problem worsens, it’s okay to seek professional help with a therapist in the community or speak with your doctor.
Pathways to Support
If you are concerned about your child or teen, please know there is help available. For immediate needs, Colorado Crisis Services has a walk-in crisis center at 115 S. Parkside Drive, hotline and text options for immediate support. Call 844-493-TALK or text “TALK” to 38255. Peak Vista has integrated behavioral health services at all of our locations to help support you and your family. The state of Colorado also has free, virtual therapy through the “I Matter” program that folks can register for online.
Sarah Brown, PhD is a behavioral health provider at Peak Vista’s Pediatric Health Center at International Circle. Dr. Brown loves breaking down stigma of seeking mental health services and helping young people to see their inherent strengths and worth. In her free time, you can find her baking, hiking, and exploring Colorado with her family.