kids mental health

Mental Health Literacy

Would you know the signs of a heart attack? Were you taught to look for chest pain or tightness, trouble breathing, pain in the arm? Chances are that yes, when it comes to health issues you are fairly literate because you’ve been educated about it. Most likely you’d see a doctor right away or at the very least talk openly about your medical condition to your partner, friend, family member.

What about mental health? Do you know the signs of depression? Do you know what to look for? Do you know that depression is NOT “just a bad day?” Would you seek out the help of a mental health professional with the same earnestness as you would a physician? What about talking with your partner, friend or family member about what you’re feeling?

According to the CDC the suicide rate for children aged 10-17 increased by 70% between 2006 and 2016. And did you know that 14 million students are in schools with police but no counselors, psychologists, nurses or social workers? To read more about that check out the research done by the ACLU here:

How are we as educators, parents, and community members talking about mental health literacy? If someone opens up to you about their depression what do you say? Would you know the resources in the community to connect them to?

Mental health still carries a stigma because people are afraid to talk about it. They are afraid that people will see them as crazy, weak, or troubled. There are so many barriers to why people don’t seek mental health counseling- time, money, shame, previous bad experience, cultural concerns. It’s time to connect people to resources. Here are just a few ways to do so:

  1. If you don’t know the numbers for the suicide hotline in your area, then know this number for the national hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

  2. If you are an educator at a school, advocate for bathroom flyers, posters, or even student ID badges to have resource numbers for students to use

  3. Listen and empathize. I keep coming back to that video that Brene Brown posted about empathy vs. sympathy but it’s so true. Rarely do our words make someone feel better; rather it’s knowing that we see them and we care about them. Looking someone in the eye and saying, “I don’t really know what to say but I’m just so glad you told me” means more to that person than you might know.

  4. Make time. Next time someone talks about how they’re feeling don’t go with the easy way out by saying “oh i’m sure you’re just stressed” or “I bet it’ll pass.” Take the time to ask- “is there more you’d like to talk about? I’m here for you.”

Here are some resources to add to your toolbox:

Broadening our Definition of Family

Yesterday I saw that Sesame Street had introduced a new character to their show, Karli. Karli is a foster child and is being raised by Clem and Dalia. Then today I came across this article in The Atlantic about this new character.

I decided to dig deeper into the world of Sesame Street by visiting the Sesame Street in Communities website found here: What I found on this website was a wealth of resources ranging from homelessness to trauma to big feelings.

The new addition of Karli really resonates with me because I just wrote my first picture book All Families Invited which celebrates different types of families. By using less-limiting language and by broadening our definition of family, we can help all children feel like they belong. I also resonate with these new initiatives to talk about hard topics in a developmentally appropriate way that kids can understand. Whether it’s in a picture book or on a kids show, it’s important that children are able to see characters who look like them and this might mean in terms of ability, race, family composition, etc.

Thank you Sesame Street for surfacing topics that often adults don’t want to talk about but are so important to the well-being of children.