Being a child in today’s world is in some respects far more challenging than years before. Many children find themselves having to navigate an ever-increasing and demanding education system.
This combined with 24/7 news cycles and keeping up with social media can contribute to feelings of anxiety and unhappiness.
Teachers and school administrators have seen the ramifications of systems that ignore a child’s mental health needs. These systems are being challenged to change so that they can increase the well-being of every student.
Throughout this article, you will read eye-opening statistics but also learn about promising initiatives. By the end, you might find yourself thinking, “What can I do to positively affect the mental health of the children I encounter?”
This article contains:
- What is Child Mental Health?
- The Importance of a Child’s Mental Health
- How Can We Best Evaluate a Child’s Mental Health?
- What Role Do Schools Play in A Child’s Emotional Well-Being?
- Is there a Correlation with Children’s Mental Health and a School’s Success?
- How Can Technology and Social Media Impact a Child’s Well-Being?
- 4 Ways to Improve a Child’s Happiness and Well-Being
- Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day
- A Look at Children’s Mental Health Matters
- Child Mental Health Training Options
- A Take-Home Message
What is Child Mental Health?
Raising healthy, happy children is challenging in our fast-paced, technology-driven world. Everyday uncertainties like inadequate access to basic needs or school safety are just two examples of real problems faced by today’s youth.
Oftentimes ill-equipped young people find it difficult to express their emotions. This is in part due to normal development, but also because of a lack of positive adult role modeling.
In fact, Mental Health America (MHA) (2017) cites several startling statistics. Among them are:
- 2.2 million children have lived with a parent or guardian who has died
- 5 million feel their family can’t cover the basics like food and housing
- 7.7 million have lived with someone who had a drug or alcohol use problem
- 6.1 million have lived with someone who had a mental health illness or was suicidal
- 2.9 million experienced discrimination due to their race or ethnicity
- 5.2 million saw or heard physical abuse between adults in their home
- 6.2 million have been victims of violence or saw it in their neighborhood
- 1.2 million age 8-18 are caregivers
- 36% experienced bully behavior
According to MHA the children aged 11-17 who took their screening, reported that they often,
- feel irritable or angry (55%)
- worry a lot (69%)
- feel sad or unhappy (68%)
- do not show their feelings (45%).
The CDC defines child mental health as “reaching developmental and emotional milestones and learning healthy social skills and how to cope when there are problems.”
When children do not know how to cope with their emotions, this can manifest as behavior problems. In the United States, “4.6% of children age 3-17 have been diagnosed with either Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) or Conduct Disorder” (MHA, 2017).
Boys are more likely to have these disorders than girls. Because research is unclear about causes it is difficult to determine why this is the case (Mayo Clinic, n.d.).
Children need supportive environments to thrive. One way to do this is by implementing social-emotional learning (SEL) programs. Another is through daily physical education programs. Later in this article, we will discuss both of these plus a few other ideas.
We invite you to share your thoughts about child mental health, including programs, in the comment section.
The Importance of a Child’s Mental Health
It can be easy for some people to dismiss the importance of understanding this subject. These individuals might think, “I got through it, so everybody else should be able to.”
You might have even heard someone say, “Toughen up,” “Be a man,” “You fight like a girl,” or “You’re bossy.” Imagine for a moment how a child, whose prefrontal cortex is not completely formed, interprets these words. What message do they receive?
If you were ever a recipient of these kinds of phrases, or attitudes, how has it affected you? Sometimes we forget or choose to forget that when we dealt with these issues it was not fun and we did suffer.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “10-20% of children and adolescents experience mental disorders.” WHO offers a few other insights to consider.
- 50% of all mental illnesses begin by age 14.
- 75% occur by the mid-20s
- Neuropsychiatric conditions are the leading cause in many regions.
Neuropsychiatric conditions or disorders is a broad term used to describe diseases that negatively affect one’s ability to learn, work, and emotionally cope. These diseases have a neurological and psychological base.
Some examples are:
- Eating disorders
- Degenerative diseases
- Mood disorders
- Neurotic disorders
- Sleep disorders
The common link is that these types of disorders impact brain function, emotion, and mood (Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, n.d.)
In the US, depression and anxiety have increased over time. ADHA, behavior issues, anxiety and depression are most commonly diagnosed. Some conditions happen together. For example, depression and anxiety. Treatment varies. Children with depression receive treatment more often than children with anxiety or behavior problems.
Rather than tell a child to “toughen up,” current research indicates that we should assist them to cultivate positive emotions (Fredrickson, 2013; Kuiper, 2012; Cann & Collette, 2014, & Ryan & Deci, 2000). Doing so assists us to better support future generations.
How Can We Best Evaluate a Child’s Mental Health?
Parents, teachers, and other caregivers can seek guidance from trained professionals. These people include child welfare workers, school psychologists, counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists. In the United States and many other countries, these professionals have completed extensive schooling and supervised training.
Screening and assessing a child’s mental health involves identifying the proper tools (Child Welfare Information Gateway, n.d.). Once done, the professional must understand how to properly administer and interpret them (Careers in Psychology, n.d.). Lay people are not positioned to do this. In some countries, professionals must continue their education to keep their license current.
If you are a parent and concerned about your child’s mental health, visit the National Institute of Mental Health. From there, you can download or read Is this just a stage? This free resource covers the following topics and also provides links to other helpful organizations:
- When to seek help
- First steps for parents
- Finding answers
- Treatment options
- Choosing a mental health professional
- Working with the school
What Role Do Schools Play in A Child’s Emotional Well-Being?
Any discussion about schools and children must also include teachers and staff, family, and community. Each of these has a direct and indirect effect on the child.
An easy way to think about this is to imagine a stool with three legs. The seat is the child’s genetic makeup, including personality traits. Everyone displays ‘the big five’ to varying degrees. They are extraversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. These traits have genetic links (Lo et al., 2016). A child’s personality plays a big role in their school success, but it is not the only factor.
Each leg represents something in their environment that can influence their behavior – the school, family, and community. Community includes peers outside of school, other adults, businesses, places of worship, and other organizations.
Our discussion begins with where children spend the majority of their time.
Leg One: School, Teachers, and Staff
Children spend up to eight hours per day, sometimes longer, at school. Peers, teachers, and support staff influence the student’s attitude and behavior. This is important to remember in light of Fredrickson’s (2013) research. Emotions are contagious and it is in everyone’s best interest to cultivate the positive ones often.
In a report titled, Wise up: Prioritizing wellbeing in schools, the authors cite well-being as a “clear indicator of academic achievement, success, and satisfaction later in life.”
From a macro perspective, schools not only must guide education but also behavior. This increasingly involves establishing rules and guidelines for school-wide behavior expectations. In the US, one popular system is Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS).
The aim of PBIS is to “improve social, emotional and academic outcomes for all students, including students with disabilities and students from underrepresented groups” (PBIS, n.d.)
To implement PBIS, all administration and staff must be “all in” for creating a new school climate. They start by defining values and then expectations that help everyone achieve those values. For example, if a school identifies respect as a value, then they would define what that means throughout the school, including on school buses.
This school-wide coordinated effort happens in three tiers.
- Tier one (Primary): School-wide expectations for all staff, volunteers, and students in all settings. About 80% of the student population falls into this group (PBIS Rewards, n.d.)
- Tier two (Secondary): Targeted check-in/check-out for students needing additional guidance beyond Tier One. This is typically 10-15% of the student body.
- Tier three (Tertiary): Intensive individual guidance for students that are not responding to Tiers One or Two. Approximately 5% of the student population will need this level of support.
PBIS is not a one size fits all approach. The success or failure of the program depends on those involved in its implementation and on-going use. Consistently teaching students what is expected, where it’s expected, and why, helps them succeed. It also helps them to feel safe and secure in their school environment.
PBIS is not the only approach schools can use. Social-Emotional Learning also is gaining in popularity. You will read more about it in the section titled 4 Ways to Improve a Child’s Happiness and Well-Being.
Aside from PBIS and SEL, some schools have implemented character strength-based programs. The Institute of Positive Education – Geelong Grammar School built its curriculum to include six domains of well-being.
- Positive Relationships
- Positive Emotions
- Positive Health
- Positive Engagement
- Positive Accomplishments
- Positive Purpose
These six domains can be “accurately modeled as a measure of positive mental health in adolescence.” (IPE, n.d.) To ensure the success of their positive education model, they follow four implementation processes.
First, everyone learns, understands and has an opportunity to engage with well-being science. Second, staff and students practice the concepts in their lives in their own way. Third, students have time to explore the key domains of well-being. And, forth they adopt school-wide policies and practices that cultivate, support, and nurture well-being for individuals and the community.
Martin Seligman discussed this program at length in his book, Flourish, and you can access more positive education books in our article about these books and discipline.
Teachers often get asked to take on many other school-related duties. She might be the head coach for one sport, and the assistant for another. He might lead extracurricular academic activities or clubs. She might help provide after-school care or help with the parent-teacher association. Showing school support through attending sporting events and fundraisers also takes its toll.
Some teachers have limited resources, suffer from a lack of autonomy, and work in negative school environments. Others must contend with those things and high-stakes testing.
Some teachers feel that they cannot say, “no,” to the many requests they receive. Add to this the expectation that teachers be immediately responsive to parent inquiries, and soon the teacher may feel overwhelmed.
A teacher’s support network are friends, family, and colleagues. A 2017 Educator Quality of Work Life Survey revealed that “teachers reported having poor mental health for 11 or more days per month.” This same survey indicated that 61% of the time, teachers rated their work “always” or “often” stressful. Please note that these stats are specific to US-based teachers.
Teacher stress affects students in the following ways (Weingarten, 2017):
- Higher turnover which leads to lower student achievement and higher costs for the school.
- Managed stress can lead to higher teacher engagement. This predicts higher student engagement and then higher student achievement. It is an example of the upward spiral Fredrickson discusses in her work.
- Teacher stress and depression symptoms are linked to lower student achievement gains in third-grade math.
Teachers need more time with their support network to help them manage their own job-related stressors.
Leg Two: Family
Intuitively we know that when a primary caregiver gets and remains involved in a child’s life, the child can flourish. Research supports this.
The Nellie Mae Education Foundation published a literature review in 2017 highlighting the benefits. Through their collaboration with the American Institute for Research, they identified 35 diverse and inclusive studies (Wood, Bauman, Rudo, & Dimock, 2017).
These studies helped answered two questions:
- What are the key components (practices, challenges, conditions, goals, and outcomes) of promising family-school partnerships that support school- and district-level reform?
- How do promising partnerships involve families and communities in education reform?
Several family engagement programs and practices have a positive effect on student outcomes. These same activities also improve the school (Wood, et al., 2017).
- Using social networks to engage parents in their student’s learning. For example, Class Dojo, the Remind app, setting up a classroom webpage, using a class Facebook group.
- Giving parents leadership roles within the school. For example, Board of Education, Booster Clubs, and Parent-Teacher associations.
- Providing classes for parents to either help themselves or their children.
- Providing opportunities for parents to get involved in their child’s education at school or at home. For example, attending field trips or assisting with classroom projects.
Student attendance also improves when primary and secondary caregivers get involved in the above activities.
Now, let’s review the evidence for community involvement.
Leg Three: Community Involvement
Schools and students benefit in many ways through connections with community businesses and organizations. For example, expanded funding streams can become available through partnerships. Teachers are able to connect with service providers who can add value to in-and out of class lessons. Schools also can receive donations to use for school projects.
Community partnerships open doors for students to learn what local employers need in future employees. At the same time, it affords employers a chance to influence local school offerings.
For example, schools who have implemented STEM or STEAM programs connect with employers who represent those areas. Those employers provide real-world, insider perspectives on science, technology, engineering, math, and the arts. These interactions excite the learning process and encourage students to pursue work they might not have otherwise considered.
Cajon Valley Union School District created the World of Work program to connect with community businesses. Their goal is to help students see how education fits into their future work life.
The program encourages the exploration of one’s strengths, interests, and values. Not every child needs or wants to attend a traditional four-year university. Programs like World of Work show students how diverse the world of work is (Digital Promise, n.d.).
Is there a Correlation with Children’s Mental Health and a School’s Success?
What does ‘school success’ mean? There is no unified or universal definition of this, but there are a few commonalities. Some cite academic excellence as the main target. Others add real-world skills development to this. And still others, include an emphasis on character strengths. One could argue that schools that manage all three are succeeding.
Is there an actual correlation between the mental health of students and the success of a school? Most studies look at this question from a slightly different angle. That is, “How does a child’s mental health affect their success in school?” Looking at it this way makes it easier to analyze possible correlations.
Emotional and behavioral issues lead to more time out of the classroom for students. This is especially true for students in special education. Suspensions, both in-and-out of school, contribute to the child getting further behind. Labeling the student as “the bad kid” or “troublemaker” contributes to a downward spiral.
For instance, research shows that “more than 77,000 children in special education receive suspensions or expulsions for more than 10 consecutive days” (Child Mind Institute, n.d.). Students in special education include those with varying degrees of autism, anxiety, and learning disorders.
Schools with high rates of suspension and expulsion, also have high dropout rates (Lee, Gregory, & Fan, 2011). Children who do not graduate have more challenges later with underemployment and unemployment. According to the Child Mind Institute (n.d.), they are “63x more likely to be jailed than four-year college graduates.”
Dropping out of school also reduces one’s quality of life. More education generally leads to a longer life span. Someone with less than a high school education lives “9.2 fewer years than persons who graduate” (Child Mind Institute, n.d.).
Any correlations found in the existing research concern the child’s mental health and its effect on their success in school. Extrapolating from that allows for a discussion about the success of school districts.
How Can Technology and Social Media Impact a Child’s Well-Being?
New technology is not good or evil in and of itself. It’s all about how people choose to use it.
We’re surrounded by technology and that is unlikely to change. Statista (2016) forecasts that by 2020 there will be around “6.58 network-connected devices per person” worldwide. In 2015 that number was 3.47. From electronics, to appliances, and vehicles, the Internet of Things (IoT) is booming.
In 2015 Common Sense Media studied more than 2600 US youth aged 8 – 18 years old. They investigated the effects of onscreen and off-screen media activities; level of enjoyment; social media use; devices used; and, time spent.
- Teens average nine hours of entertainment media use; Tweens average six. This is excluding time spent in school.
- Tweens and teens engage in a variety of media-related activities.
- Boys and girls have different preferences.
- Watching TV and listening to music reign supreme over other media activities.
- Their media consumption is very mobile.
- 45% use social media every day.
- They use phones, computers, and tablets for many purposes: watching, reading, playing, listening, communicating, and creating.
- Many multitask while doing homework and believe this has no negative effect.
- Parents are mostly concerned with exposure to content rather than time spent using devices.
- Income, race/ethnicity, and education all influence the amount of time youth spend with media.
- There is a “digital equality gap” in ownership of various devices.
A Pew Research Center (2018) survey indicates the following:
- 95% of teens age 13 to 17 own smartphones or have access to one.
- 45% of teens say they’re online “almost constantly.”
- Snapchat (35%), Youtube (32%), Instagram (15%), and Facebook (10%) are their platforms of choice.
- Lower-income teens use Facebook more than teens from higher-income families.
- Girls use Snapchat (41%) more often than boys (29%).
- 45% believe social media has a neutral effect on people their age.
- 31% say social media has a positive effect while 24% say it’s negative.
According to a survey by Piper Jaffray, “83% of US teens own an iPhone” (2019). They also found that Snapchat is their favorite platform, but that Instagram is most used. Female Gen Z-ers cite influencers as their primary source for beauty tips.
What is the effect of all this? Unsurprisingly it is similar to that for adults. Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains? highlights several areas of concern.
- Increased distraction
- Shorter attention spans
- Rewired neuronal patterns
- Superficial learning
- Distracted rather than deep thinking
- Weakened comprehension as a result of link clicking behavior
- Multimedia viewing reduces comprehension
- People experience cognitive overload because they’re exposed to too much information too quickly
- We read faster and less thoroughly online
- Switching costs increase because every time we shift our attention from one thing to another our brain has to play “catch up”
- Less control over working memory
And, the people most likely to die in a distracted driving crash are young people aged 16-19 years old (Delgado, Wanner, & McDonald, 2016).
According to Carr, there are a few positive effects of using technology like:
- improved hand-eye coordination
- faster reflex response
- visual cue processing
- increased problem-solving efficiency
- ability to quickly determine the value of a web page
A closer look at social media use
How often do you use social media? How does it affect you? Do you ever get angry or sad after reading or sharing a post or image? As adults we are presumably better equipped to handle these situations. But, if you have ever thought or felt negatively about your usage and experience, then consider this:
How does it affect children whose brains are not fully developed, and who lack social-emotional control?
Social media includes Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and others. Many young people flock to them for two main reasons, sharing and finding entertaining content. On the surface this seems fine, but there’s a dark side to social media use.
For example, Kross and colleagues (2013) found that using Facebook adversely affects young people’s well-being. They measured how people felt moment-to-moment and their level of life satisfaction. The more time young adults spent on Facebook, the more each of these declined. More direct interactions didn’t have this negative affect.
The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt (2012) conducted a survey to determine how social media affects body image. They surveyed 600 Facebook users ages 16 to 40.
Some of their findings include:
- 51% of respondents reported feeling more self-conscious about their body and weight after seeing pictures of themselves,
- 51% compare themselves to others,
- 32% feel sad when comparing Facebook pictures of themselves to friends,
- 44% are always aware that a picture of them might end up on Facebook if attending a social event,
- 43% hide from the spotlight at social events if they don’t believe they look their best,
- 53% compare older pictures of themselves with newer ones thanks to Facebook’s timeline feature,
- 25% said they were happy with their current body and weight, and
- 69% said they’d like to lose weight.
If potential weight and body image issues are not a deterrent, then cyberbullying might be.
Jung and colleagues (2014) studied “problematic internet use” and its association with cyberbullying in 4531 Korean youth. This type of use “is characterized by excessive or poorly controlled preoccupations, urges or behaviors regarding computer use and internet access, which result in subjective distress and functional impairment.”
The participants’ ages ranged from 11 to 14 years old. The researchers found that 9.7% engaged in bully behavior.
Risky behavior such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and drug use all increase (Huang, Unger, Soto, Fujimoto, Pentz, Jordan-Marsh, & Valente, 2014). They concluded that “friends’ online behaviors should be considered a viable source of peer influence.”
Avoiding or limiting social media use is in a child’s best interest, but for many parents and teens, this becomes a battle. Like some of their parents, young people do not want to feel left out. Moderation and monitoring are ways to limit the harmful effects of using social media.
4 Ways to Improve a Child’s Happiness and Well-Being
Mindfulness interventions for youth are still new, and like studies with adult populations, sample sizes tend to be small. Even so, the research is promising (Weare, 2012).
Several studies show benefits in the following areas:
- calmness and relaxation
- improved sleep
- less reactivity
- increased self-care and self-awareness
- increased self-acceptance
- better emotional regulation
- increased sense of clarity
- decreased test anxiety
- increased attentiveness
Exercise is a key component for leading a happy, healthy life. One of the best resources for more information and a peek inside the research is Dr. John Ratey. In his book, Spark!, he highlights several benefits of exercise for youth and adults.
It builds brain cells, helps treat depression, leads to the creation of BDNF (Miracle Grow for the brain), and it turns on the attention, motivation and memory systems.
Watch the Exercise and brain rap. It explains the benefits of daily exercise beautifully.
According to Dr. Ratey, exercise “optimizes your brain’s ability to learn. It helps regulate your emotions. It improves your motivation.”
It’s also free. Most people don’t need fancy equipment to reap the benefits of an exercise program.
Paul Zientarski, a physical education teacher whose program Dr. Ratey featured, shares the details about his program: Learning Readiness Physical Education (LRPE).
Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is a process that assists children and adults to recognize, understand, and manage their emotions. In doing so, people learn to establish and achieve goals, express empathy for others, engage in healthy relationships and make responsible decisions (NEA, n.d.).
Included in SEL are five targeted areas. They are:
- Social awareness
- Relationship skills
- Responsible decision-making
The NEA cites four important benefits of implementing SEL programs.
- Better academic performance: achievement scores are an average of 11 percentile points higher than students who did not receive SEL instruction;
- Improved attitudes and behaviors: greater motivation to learn, deeper commitment to school, increased time devoted to schoolwork, and better classroom behavior;
- Fewer negative behaviors: decreased disruptive class behavior, noncompliance, aggression, delinquent acts, and disciplinary referrals; and,
- Reduced emotional distress: fewer reports of student depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal.
Rutgers University is home of the SECD Lab. Their focus is to help schools prevent violence, increase SEL, social decision-making, social problem-solving, and character development. It’s led by Dr. Maurice Elias.
For more information about the different frameworks of SEL, Bernie Farrell’s (2019) article is an excellent starting point. In it, he describes ACT, CASEL, The Clover Model, and MHA Labs 21st Century Skills, to name a few. These models are some of the largest and are well-supported.
Kindness activities benefit everyone. Rowland and Curry (2018) found:
- Performing kind acts for seven days increases happiness, and
- There is a positive relationship between the number of kind acts and the level of happiness someone experiences.
KindLab is an incubator for kind acts. Through the efforts of researchers like Rowland and Curry, and citizen scientists, we are learning how powerful a single kind act is. We also know that the type of kind act is not important.
In Rowland and Curry’s (2018) study, they randomly assigned 683 adults to four kindness groups.
- Group 1: Strong social ties (family and friends)
- Group 2: Weak social ties (strangers and acquaintances)
- Group 3: Novel acts of kindness
- Group 4: Observing acts of kindness
- Group 5: Control – no intentional kind acts; self-selected because they did not start doing kind acts on the designated day.
The researchers hypothesized that happiness would increase for the experimental conditions compared to the control group. They also believed that it would increase more for people who did kind acts for strong and weak ties, but less for self-kindness.
Rowland and Curry thought that doing kind acts would trump observing them. They also hypothesized kind acts for family and friends would increase happiness more than it did if performing them for strangers.
They found that performing acts of kindness boosts happiness, but that doing kind acts for strong ties versus weak does not matter. The study supports previous findings that self-kindness increases happiness. The researchers also found evidence that observing kind acts increases happiness.
Being kind is a prosocial activity. Children who learn this skill gain greater acceptance by their peers. Their sense of well-being also improves (Layous, Nelson, Oberle, Schonert-Reichl, & Lyubomirsky, 2012).
Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Many organizations host or sponsor events to educate the public about the importance of positive mental health.
May 6th is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. Established in 2005 by The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), it has grown to include more than 1,100 communities (SAMHSA, n.d.)
As viewed on their website, SAMHSA’s goals are to:
- Raise awareness of the efficacy of community-based mental health and substance use services for children, youth, young adults, and their families.
- Demonstrate how children’s mental health initiatives promote positive youth development, recovery, and resilience; and,
- Show how children, youth, and young adults with mental and/or substance use disorders can flourish in their communities.
The 2019 May 6th theme was suicide prevention. If you or your organization want to plan an event SAMHSA offers suggested activities. They include:
- organizing a resource fair
- hosting a film viewing and discussion panel
- sponsoring an exercise challenge
- hosting a Twitter chat about the theme
A Look at Children’s Mental Health Matters
This Maryland, USA-based program began more than a decade ago to bring awareness to children’s mental health. Since then the campaign has grown to include 850 school and community partners. (Child Mental Health Matters, n.d.) These partners host a variety of events throughout Maryland.
Like SAMHSA, the organization offers a plethora of resources. Good programs often are useful when establishing something similar in a different region.
Child Mental Health Training Options
There are several accredited schools and organizations that offer child mental health counseling certificates and degrees. In fact, there are too many to list in this article. Besides, part of the joy of discovering you have a passion for something is finding the best schools to help you learn more.
That said, a few places to start your search are:
These sites provide general information about education requirements. They also often list the types of courses you might take and links to specific schools. PositivePsychology.com has no affiliation with any of the above.
If you want to become a guidance, school, or child mental health counselor, then you will need a four-year degree or equivalent to begin. Depending on what you would like to do next, you might also need or want to complete a master’s or Ph.D. program.
In the US, becoming a licensed counselor requires a master’s degree. You also must complete supervised clinical hours which can vary by state (All Psychology Schools, n.d.) While it is a good idea to earn a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in psychology, sociology, or education, this is not a requirement. It will help you with a master’s level program.
For international requirements, check the American Psychological Association’s directory of national associations.
If you want to get involved, but do not want to invest in advanced degrees, then Mental Health First Aid is another option. This international non-profit began in Australia in 2001. Founded by Betty Kitchener, a nurse, and Anthony Jorm, a mental health literacy professor, the organization’s model soon spread to 25 countries. MHFA organizations offer an 8-hour course covering,
- Assessing for risk
- Listening nonjudgmentally
- Giving reassurance and information
- Encouraging appropriate professional help
- Encouraging self-help and other support strategies
The site does not list costs associated with taking the training. Certified trainers lead the course either in a one-or two-day format. Entering your zip code will assist you in locating a program near you or you can search by instructor’s name. Note that training is not available everywhere, but the site also offers a training manual.
A Take Home Message
Child mental health has become an important area of study throughout the United States and in many other parts of the world. We want children to thrive and flourish. To ensure this happens, programs like Maryland’s Child Mental Health Matters! are gaining ground.
Communities, in schools and out, are vital to the success of every child. Engaging children as early as pre-K in explorations of prosocial behaviors is important. These actions increase their empathy and sense of well-being.
Teaching caregivers, teachers, and staff best practices for social-emotional learning also contribute to every child’s mental health.
There is a need for more child mental health counselors worldwide. Education requirements vary by state and country. A good minimum starting point is a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in a social sciences field.
How will you positively affect the mental health of children you encounter today?
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