Health and Wellness Life!

Mental Health talk: Signs parents should watch for and when to seek help

mental health
Parents play a crucial and fundamental role in every aspect of their child’s life.

They provide physical care by ensuring their child is healthy and safe, nurture spiritual growth through instilling values and beliefs, and support their mental well-being by being attentive and responsive to their child’s emotional and psychological needs.

However, addressing mental health can sometimes be challenging for parents. They may lack the necessary knowledge or resources to recognize mental health issues, or they might struggle with the stigma associated with seeking help.

As a result, they might dismiss their child’s cries for help or misinterpret the symptoms as mere mood fluctuations and overlook the underlying issues that require attention and intervention.

READ: Mental Health talk: Self-awareness and its power

“Aysus, hilak-hilak, ganahan man siguro ka madayonan og kaboang?”

“Naa ra nas imo hunahuna tanan. Ngano boang ka?”

“Kuwang ra ka og pag-ampo, mao na kay dili ti’g simba bisan unsa na mosulod sa utok nimo!”

She slumped behind the door and covered her mouth, silently sobbing, afraid that her cries might awaken her father and sister from their loud sleep.

She felt utterly helpless. The voices inside her head seemed like a malfunctioning radio, each phrase piercing deeper like a knife into her chest. She felt nothing but the weight of hopelessness, like a child trapped in a dark corner, unable to find a way out.

“Naunsa naman ko? Boang man siguro ko,” she questioned herself.

Ashley was diagnosed with depression last April this year. She is 15 years old, but she began experiencing various symptoms when she was just 12 during the onset of the pandemic. Stuck at home all day with restrictions in place and minimal social interaction, she found herself feeling isolated.

Ashley, the youngest of three siblings raised by a single parent, lived in a dark, gloomy house. Her loneliness was clear. Every night, she would wait for her family to fall asleep before quietly crying, a routine she followed to find some peace before sleeping herself.

“Usually maka hibaw nako if mo attack na akong anxiety kay, ma tense ko, makulbaan, mag lisud og ginhawa, mo pound sad akong heart og paspas, headache, then mo hilak,” she shared.

“One thing jud na mo trigger og ayu sa akong anxiety is kanang mag overthink ko about “death”. Mo attack siya once ako ra isa, that’s why dili jud ko ganahan og ako ra isa kay maka huna huna kog mga butang na possible ma hitabo nya mamoblema nakog ayu, mo hilak nalang jud ko kay wala naman koy ma himo,” Ashley added.

Ashley, at a young age, has faced numerous mental challenges, and unfortunately, she is not the only one experiencing the same stigma within the family. She was among the many children who sit in the dark, afraid that they might be seen as “problems.”

So, should parents adopt a more open and empathetic approach towards their children’s mental health? Undoubtedly, the answer is yes.

The role of parents in child’s mental health

In an exclusive interview with Dr. Angie Sievert-Fernandez, a registered psychologist and certified child life specialist, she explained how parents play the biggest role in children’s and teens’ mental health, given that they are the primary caregivers and are often the ones most present in the home environment.

“For most parents kasi, they tend to have the rule ‘Listen and obey,’ and usually a one-way trip kaya children end up with me (doctor). Parents should listen, listen, listen… the kind of listening without judgement. Listen to understand,” Dr. Fernandez said.

READ: Paying attention to mental health

She explained how important it is for parents to establish open communication with their children and learn to acknowledge the emotions their children are going through.

“You should avoid name-calling, like ‘Unsa man ka oy, katanga nimo,’ ‘Kabugo nimo,’ because the voices they hear from you will become the voices they hear within their minds. The more I hear you call me stupid, lazy, the more I hear it inside,” she said.

Signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety

According to Fernandez, there are generally major symptoms of depression and anxiety that parents should watch for in their children.

For depression, the most significant one is the loss of interest and pleasure in hobbies or activities. For example, if someone used to enjoy playing the guitar or engaging in sports, but suddenly loses interest, that is the most significant sign along with a depressed mood.

Another major symptom is disrupted sleep patterns, either struggling to sleep or oversleeping. Similarly, changes in appetite may occur, either a loss of appetite or overeating.

Parents must also take note if their children isolate themselves from friends and family, feel hopeless and worthless, and experience difficulty concentrating, low energy levels, and a feeling of sluggishness, especially in school.

Fernandez said that if these signs are occurring, they must immediately communicate with their children because if left unnoticed, it could worsen. “For moderate to severe depression, there will be thoughts of death,” she cautioned.

On the other hand, anxiety also presents its own set of symptoms, Fernandez noted.

Anxiety varies in its manifestations, but generally, the symptoms include repeated and persistent worrying that feels uncontrollable.

She said children or teens with anxiety may often express feeling like they’re “overthinking” because the thoughts seem relentless. Alongside worry, individuals may feel on edge, and restless, experience difficulty sleeping, fatigue, sleep disturbances, muscle tension, and irritability.

More specifically, manifestations of anxiety extend beyond the mind to emotions. Individuals may feel scared, extremely worried, and constantly on edge. Anxiety also affects behavior, leading individuals to avoid certain situations.

They may become easily angered, irritated, have difficulty concentrating, feel tired, and experience physiological symptoms like rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, dizziness, chest pain, and stomach ache.

Normal mood fluctuations vs serious mental problems

Since several signs could often be attributed to normal mood fluctuations or typical child tantrums, Fernandez further elaborated on what parents should consider. According to her, while there are many factors to consider, the first three are the most crucial.

Firstly, the duration – how long the symptoms persist. If mood fluctuations come and go relatively quickly, they are typically considered normal. For example, if someone feels sad today but feels fine the next day, the duration is short, indicating typical mood fluctuations.

However, if it’s a serious mental health concern, the duration is longer, and the symptoms persist for weeks or even months.

Secondly, intensity plays a significant role. Typical mood fluctuations may vary in intensity and can dissipate, but with a serious concern, managing the intensity becomes more challenging. The feelings of sadness, anger, or anxiety are more extreme and overwhelming.

Thirdly, the impact on functioning is crucial. Typical mood fluctuations generally don’t significantly interfere with daily life. For example, feeling sad today but still being able to attend school or work normally.

However, with a serious concern, it can greatly affect daily functioning. It may impair one’s ability to perform well in school or work, and there may also be associated symptoms such as changes in appetite or sleep patterns.

Early symptoms at young age

“Let’s be cautious lang gyud parents because these symptoms can go as early as three years old,” she warned.

Fernandez noted that early identification of mental health risks is crucial, particularly when genetic factors are at play.

If anxiety or depression runs in the family, especially if it’s prevalent among mothers or aunts, the likelihood of it affecting our children is significantly heightened. With multiple instances within the family, the risk further intensifies.

Consequently, signs of these conditions may surface at a young age.

“I have a patient as young as three years old kasi the anxiety can manifest as selective mutism that means dili sila moestorya in social situations as in dili moestorya. I’ve had patients nga one whole school year not uttering a single word in class, makit an gyud na nimo sa younger kids,” she said.

Helpful strategies for parents

To better handle and address these kinds of problems, Fernandez suggests a few helpful strategies.

First, she advises creating a comfortable space for communication with children. Instead of asking direct questions that might make them feel pressured, try open-ended ones that invite them to share naturally, like asking about their day or what they enjoyed most.

“For example, instead of me directly asking ‘Naunsa man ka? What happened to you?’ when you asked that direct questions to them, sometimes it would shut down the child,” she said.

Next, Fernandez recommends tailoring communication to the child’s interests. Engaging them in activities they love, such as drawing, writing, or talking about music, can make it easier for them to express themselves.

“When the child likes drawing, then ask the child to draw and tell you about it. If they enjoy writing, ask them to write a letter to you. Then, if the child likes music, ask them to choose a song that best describes how they are feeling right now,” she said.

When to seek professional help?

Finally, Fernandez advises that it’s crucial to know when to seek professional help. If a child shows ongoing and severe symptoms that affect their daily life, it’s time to reach out to a mental health professional. And if a child themselves asks for help, it’s important to take it seriously and seek support promptly.

“As long as they are now aware of the symptoms, then they have to seek help,” she said. /clorenciana

TAGS: life, mental health, mental health issues, psychology
Latest Stories
Most Read