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IU professor shares ways parents can protect students’ mental health

How parents can protect students’ mental health

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — School is back in session and doctors suggest parents check in with their kids.

New research from the National Institute of Health suggests more students are dealing with mental health issues.

Nearly 20% of all U.S. children ages 3 to 17 have a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder, according to the NIH’s 2022 National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report.

Barbara Pierce is a professor of social work at the Indiana University School of Social Work.

Pierce says students are not only feeling the pressure at school but also thinking about problems at home. For example, many kids might not have eaten since they were in school the day before and some students may have difficulty sleeping at night. Students also face family turmoil, such as violence or substance abuse in the home, according to Pierce.

“Children also have difficulties with learning, concentrating, and remembering all the stuff that every kid in school as to learn how to do. These children have more difficulty with those issues. They might also have lower motivation for school. That is, they might not want to get up and go to school because they don’t like the way it feels. They might feel stigmatized because they do have a mental health diagnosis where they’re really anxious. They might not even know what the word stigma means, but they feel it.”

When students are at school they could be feeling the impact of academic and peer pressure, bullying, and implicit or explicit bias. It’s important to remember that health and mental health are connected and mental health can impact physical health and overall wellness.

“If parents do notice that their child is struggling with school or has issues with sleep or eating, or look looking like they’re really sad, or having children express that they’re really sad, or that they don’t want to go to school, or if your child expresses thoughts of suicide or wanting to harm themselves, parents need to get help,” Pierce said.

She also says kids have lost more loved ones due to gun violence than at any other time in recent history.

Parents should encourage their children to have healthy relationships at home, at school, and in the community for example at church, community center, or in their friend group.

If your child is expressing symptoms of a mental health crisis or suicidal ideation, parents should call their doctor or the National Suicide and Crisis Hotline at 988.

Mental health resources