Dr. Melissa Mason, Your Child's Health | 5/18/2021 | Albuquerque Journal
National Mental Health Awareness Month has been commemorated every May since 1949.
This is a month to focus on the prevalence of mental illness, raise awareness, educate the public and provide support to those who struggle with mental health. It is also a month to learn strategies to maintain or improve one’s mental health.
Mental illness is more common than many people recognize, affecting around 18% of Americans. The more prevalent mental illnesses are anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia, although bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are less common in younger age groups.
The pandemic has exacerbated anxiety and depression for many, as well as contributing to many new cases. Mental illness can affect all ages, so it is important for parents to be able to recognize concerning symptoms of anxiety and depression in their kids.
Anxiety disorders are one of the most common psychiatric conditions in children and teens, and may affect up to 10% to 30% of kids. Anxiety can occur at any age and is characterized by excessive fears or worries that a child cannot control.
Children who suffer from anxiety may be described as “perfectionists” and worry about school performance, focusing on their mistakes. This can cause them to not perform well and lead to avoidance of school or activities.
They may also have anxiety associated with being in public, and have fears about how they are perceived by others. They often have difficulty sleeping or relaxing due to worries, and it can affect their appetite. Kids and teens may also experience physical symptoms associated with their anxiety, including stomach aches, a rapid heart rate, headaches and diarrhea.
Depression has been found to affect between 1% to almost 20% of kids and teens, depending on age group, with rates increasing as kids enter their adolescent and teen years. It can be exhibited differently in kids and teens.
In younger children, the symptoms may include: sadness and irritability; increased daytime sleep and less nighttime sleep; no longer enjoying things that previously made them happy; isolating themselves; fatigue or low energy; exhibiting low self-esteem; decreased focus or drop in grades; complaining of physical aches and pains with no identifiable cause; seeming uncaring about the future; and thoughts of death or suicide.
Symptoms in teens may include: increased or decreased sleep; change in eating habits; weight gain or loss; moodiness with unexpected crying or angry outbursts; drop in grades; abandonment of friends or social groups; excessive secrecy, paranoia, or isolation; neglect of personal appearance or responsibilities; self-mutilation (e.g., cutting arms or legs); use of drugs or alcohol; and talking about self-harm or suicide.
Anxiety and depression can run in families and may be associated with other psychological issues, such as ADHD and learning problems. The exact cause is unknown but is likely multifactorial, including biologic, psychologic and social-environmental factors.
Maintaining a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity and getting adequate sleep are important in helping to treat anxiety and depression, and are important as well for everyone’s physical and mental health.
Mindfulness and meditation may be beneficial and there are many apps available to help with this (Headspace, Calm and Breathe, for example). Treatment for anxiety and depression may also include counseling and medication. Many providers and counselors can see patients in-person or virtually.
Psychologytoday.com can help you find a counselor in your area. The New Mexico Crisis and Access Line has a 24-hour crisis call line 855-662-7474, as well as a website with community resources (nmcrisisline.com) and a phone app called NMConnect.
The New Mexico Medical Home Portal (nm.medicalhomeportal.org), has quite a large repository of information and resources on mental health for parents and families. The site was initially created for families who care for kids with special health care needs but has information that is useful for anyone who cares for kids.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (nami.org), currently has a campaign called “You Are Not Alone.” The goal of this campaign is to ensure that you know that you are never alone or without the information and support you need and helps to identify ways in which to stay connected.
Mental Health America (mhanational.org), has a free toolkit that provides “practical tools that everyone can use to improve their mental health and increase their resiliency regardless of their personal situation.” The toolkit is available in both Spanish and English.
This month, and every month, it is important to remember that you are never alone, and that you and your loved ones deserve health and happiness. Be well!
Melissa Mason is a general pediatrician with Journey Pediatrics in Albuquerque. Please send your questions to