May 9th is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. It’s a day to recognize the importance of promoting good mental health in our children and to recognize what can harm their mental health. People are generally aware that bullying or the death of a parent can have impact. But what else should we know?
Exposure to traumatic events can substantially negatively impact a child’s mental health and have repercussions long into adulthood – not only on their mental health but on their physical health as well. In a recent study researchers estimated that 26 percent of children in the United States will witness or experience a traumatic event before the age of 4. In addition to death of a loved one, traumatic experiences can include witnessing domestic violence, experiencing abuse or neglect, having a life-threatening illness or injury, or living with a family member whose care-giving ability is impaired. While we cannot always stop children experiencing traumatic events, it is critically important that we make sure children receive the treatment and supports needed to address this experience. Children may have nightmares, increased aggression or intense sadness. Children who do receive help have better emotional health, fewer suicidal thoughts or attempts, better school attendance and grades, fewer arrests or delinquent behavior and reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In Minnesota we have strong organizations collaborating with each other that are dedicated to addressing these issues. The Ambit Network works to make high quality care more accessible for traumatized children and families in Minnesota and beyond. The Children’s Mental Health Division at the Minnesota Department of Human Services has several projects working to support young children who have experienced traumatic events. NAMI Minnesota, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, provides free classes, support groups and materials on children’s mental health.
If you are a parent or a professional, know that there are treatments and supports in Minnesota that work. For more information contact NAMI at 651-645-2948 or 1-888-NAMI-Helps.
Sue Abderholden is the executive director the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Minnesota.