The therapists we work with specialize in adolescent behavior, specifically girls.
I have a 17-year-old and an 11-year-old and they both meet with a separate professional. The older one has a lot more going on in her life than the 11-year-old, so I feel like she requires the sessions more. But I believe the 11-year-old benefits from it as well.
My children do not have any behavioral issues that are causing them trouble at school. They have not been officially diagnosed with any sort of learning disability. They do not show any sign of explosive or dangerous behavior to themselves or others either. My husband and I are not in the process of divorce nor are we going through any major life change. We seemingly have no acute reason to seek therapy for our kids.
However, mental illness runs in my family. I am aware of the increased possibility that my child could begin to develop a disorder.
Mental Health and Kids
One of my girls has had bouts of more serious anxiety and depression and one has shown some signs of mild anxiety that may or may not be typical with her respective age groups.
Experts say that promoting a child’s mental health can be achieved by providing a child with a safe and secure home; trusting relationships with family; opportunities to talk about experiences and feelings; time to play, learn, and succeed; encouragement and praise; and consistent and fair expectations with clear consequences for misbehavior.
This all makes perfect sense, and while I think I am a good parent, I am human. I know I don’t provide all those things to my kids consistently. Things happen. Emotions get out of control (especially with teenagers). Tempers flare, feelings get hurt, and egos get bruised.
Life is messy.
Because of that, I call in reinforcements. I don’t treat my children’s physical health problems. I rely on a trained professional. So why wouldn’t I approach their mental health in the same way?
No matter how close of a relationship I like to think I have with my kids, I know they have, and will, experience things they don’t want to share with me. They may feel like they will be judged or punished or disappoint me if they tell me everything.
I want my girls to have a safe space to work through any issues they may have.
If I am being very honest with myself, I also know some of the issues they may choose to discuss would benefit from an objective observer. I love my girls too much to be sure that my advice, or worry, or emotional response would be anything other than biased or subjective and may not serve their best interest.
We are very open and honest about mental health in my family.
My girls know I take medicine for anxiety and depression and that there is nothing shameful about that. My husband and I never approach therapy as something they are participating in because something is “wrong with them.” We offer it as a tool to help them. They are not forced to go, and they don’t go very often.
I also understand that I am extremely fortunate that I can afford this for my girls. I understand the mental health system for children who have severe problems, or who may be in immediate crises or have zero or poor health insurance can be a source of great frustration for parents who do not have easy, or any, access to it.
Mental Health in Iowa
Iowa has long had a piecemeal system for adults with mental health problems. Many of those services are financed by about $100 million in annual county property taxes. There is no such system in place for children though.
A 2017 report found that Iowa had just 55 child or adolescent psychiatrists to oversee care for the state’s 750,000 children. That amounted to about 8 specialists per 100,000 children. The report, from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, recommends states have at least 47 psychiatrists for every 100,000 children. Those are dismal statistics.
There is a lot of work that needs to be done, and Iowa is making some long overdue strides to improve the situation. I am a strong advocate for improvements because I am acutely and even shamefully aware that my kids are fortunate to have access to resources while others do not.
It is my hope that addressing mental health will be just as commonplace when talking about children’s health as proper nutrition, car seat safety, immunizations, sleep, and education. Until then, I will continue to make it a priority when it comes to my own kids, and advocate and work for change so that all families who want or need resources will have them.
For more information on resources, see the list below:
Mental Health Resources
Mental Health America