Resources for Addressing Mental Health Concerns in Children and Teens

This post is sponsored by Children’s Mercy.

Parents spend a lot of time doing what they can to protect their children – from making sure they wear a seatbelt, to applying sunscreen, monitoring screen time and more. But when it comes to addressing mental health, it can be more difficult to catch the warning signs.

Mental health issues appear in different ways. For some children, it’s feeling anxious or overwhelmed with daily tasks. For others, they may suddenly stop showing interest in what were once their favorite hobbies or activities. The recent statistics surrounding mental health in children are alarming, with a reported 1 in 5 children ages 3-17 having a mental health disorder. Children’s Mercy Kansas City has seen a 67% increase in mental health referrals since 2017, with an estimated 40% to 50% of young people with mental health disorders going untreated in our region. 

If you suspect your child or teen may be struggling with their mental health, Children’s Mercy Kansas City has tips on how to address your concerns, and resources available to support your entire family.

Where do I start?

Seeking help can be daunting, but there are several ways you can get started.

  • Open the door for dialogue. Make it a habit to ask your child or teen how they’re feeling about different areas of their lives —friends, school, hobbies/interests, stress level, etc. Be prepared to listen if they have concerns or updates, but also be prepared for them to not have much to say — that’s okay too! Let them know you are available if they ever do have any stresses they want to talk through. While we can’t force kids to talk to us, we can make sure they know the door is always open and that we are ready to listen and provide support.
  • Talk with your child’s primary care provider. Record and share your observations with your child’s doctor. Things you may want mention include:
    • Behavioral changes: increased irritability, feeling overwhelmed, withdrawal from family or friends
    • Social changes: loss of interest in activities, withdrawal from family or friends, isolation
    • School: sudden drop in academic performance, concern expressed by school professionals
  • Contact your insurance provider. Request a list of mental health providers available in your network, or look online for a provider guide. 
  • Get educated. Things like technology, nutrition, sleep and relationships can have affect mental health. This video series discusses these areas – plus more – and provides insight on ways to help improve your child’s mental health and wellbeing. 
  • Take action. The Depression and Anxiety in Youth (DAY) Clinic at Children’s Mercy is the hospital’s first program dedicated to providing care for depression and anxiety before patients are in crisis. The clinic will offer group therapy, individual therapy and medication management for patients ages 12 to 17 with known or suspected depression or anxiety. Families can self-refer to the DAY Clinic by calling Developmental and Behavioral Health at (816) 234-3674. Primary care providers fill out these referral forms to refer a patient.  

Mental Health Toolkit

If you’re looking for resources on a specific condition, Children’s Mercy has developed a mental health toolkit outlining specific behavioral and mental health needs. Reference this toolkit for information related to:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Support and acceptance for kids who are neurodivergent
  • Eating disorders
  • Suicide prevention
  • Parent coaching and mentoring programs
  • Accommodations for kids with mental health or sensory needs

Remember to put your life jacket on

Supporting your child through a mental health crisis can be overwhelming. This can manifest in physical symptoms like headaches, insomnia and upset stomach. You can also begin experiencing your own mental health issues like anxiety and depression, which can get worse if you don’t have time for yourself. If you’re experiencing this, listen to your body, and know that you can’t pour from an empty cup. 

5 tips to restore yourself so you’re at your best for you, and your family

  • Get moving. A few minutes of intentional movement several times throughout the day can be just as effective as one longer block of exercise.
  • Eat for energy. Incorporate protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables into your diet. Even if you don’t have time to cook every day, adding nutrient-dense foods like these can help keep your energy up.
  • Stay connected. Carve out time for the people and activities you love. You deserve joy, friendship and fulfillment.
  • Rest when you can. Caregivers’ schedules are often dictated by the needs of others. Whenever possible, take the opportunity to rest in ways that are restorative for you, such as sleeping, reading, watching a favorite show or being creative.
  • Turn your face toward the sun. Finding the light—both literally and figuratively—helps keep your mood and energy up. Spending time outdoors, even if it’s just stepping out the door for 5 minutes to breathe, and staying focused on the positives, even if they’re very small victories, will have positive effects on your wellbeing.

If your child is making suicidal threats or actions, immediately call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available by dialing 988 and is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This resource is confidential. 

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