Mental health for children should be a top priority for parents

A panel from the Huntsman Mental Health Institute will speak with parents on Thursday about mental health treatments and prevention for their children. (Emily Ashcraft, KSL.com)

Estimated reading time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Local experts teach parents the skills they need to help children with mental health problems.

“If your child … has a mental health problem, it doesn’t mean you are a failure as a parent,” Amanda Miller, director of intermediate services at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, said during the facility’s second “community talk.” held as part of Mental Health Awareness Month in May.

She said it’s important for parents to recognize that mental health problems are a disease, and while environmental stressors can bring them out, biology plays a big role.

The virtual panel discussion was designed to educate parents about what to look for to know if children have mental health problems, encourage them to talk to their children, limit electronic devices and take mental health issues seriously. It is also important to seek help if and when needed.

Children also experience mental health problems differently than adults, says Radha Moldover, who directs Teenscope South, a day care center for youth mental health.

She said that depression for kids doesn’t necessarily mean they are sad more often — it can instead manifest as irritable, irritable, or more sensitive. Moldover said depression in children can be mistaken for moodiness in teenagers. She also noted that children with attention deficit disorders have a higher risk of developing depression.

The treatment center at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, formerly known as the University Neuropsychiatric Institute, provides parents with validation information, including how to talk and listen to their children, while teaching children about regulating emotions and mindfulness skills.

She said there are many electronic resources available to parents and their families, including apps, YouTube channels and websites. Moldover suggested using these agents if there is a wait and a child cannot see a therapist immediately. Other panelists suggested community groups and school counselors.

Lindsay Wilson-Barlow, a child psychiatrist at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, said that while there are many resources available to help teens, being available as a parent is just a good start.

“Being there, you know, seeing your child as a resource and someone who cares about you and someone who can be there is, I think, the very first step,” Wilson-Barlow said.

She said that parents don’t necessarily have to have intense conversations with their children about mental problems, but that they should play games or eat together. She also emphasized that children should have a sense of belonging and community, and should have a balance between social media and interacting with friends and others.

Wilson-Barlow suggested setting limits on internet and phone time.

“In general, we want to create balance,” she said.

According to Kristin Francis, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who led Thursday’s panel discussion, parents can set rules for electronic devices, and as situations change, they can change the rules and explain those changes.

Francis said health officials see an “unprecedented need” for mental health services, and it’s possible that the COVID-19 pandemic has deterred people from seeking mental health care and may have caused additional stress as well.

“Something about the pandemic that I’ve definitely seen is that more people are recognizing that it’s okay not to be okay, and that they’re seeking help,” she said.

If there is a wait to see a provider, it is likely because the provider is trying to provide quality care to patients they have already committed to seeing regularly.

The first community talk — held last week — focused on the SafeUT app, which allows youth and certain adults to text a mental health professional at any time. Thursday’s panel members suggested that parents should ensure that the app is downloaded to their child’s phone before a problem occurs.

“Even if you’re not in that place, it’s a good thing to just introduce your child,” Wilson-Barlow said.

The final community talk, which will be available to the public, will feature a panel of youth sharing how they are coping with their own mental health issues. The online presentation “Hard Healing: Exposing the Stigma of Mental Health” will take place on May 19 at 6:00 PM. More information can be found at healthcare.utah.edu/hmhi.

Related stories

Emily Ashcraft joined KSL.com in 2021 as a reporter. She covers courts and legal matters, as well as health, faith, and religion news.

More stories you might be interested in

Leave a Comment