It’s Okay If They Don't Feel Okay

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Written by Elias Joshua Salama,
with Julie Belkowitz, M.D., M.P.H., and Oneith Cadiz, M.D.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

A teacher? Basketball player? A scientist?

This is a difficult question to ask a child when you think about it. At least there are no wrong answers, right? Strangely enough, my mom would disagree. Everyone who knows my family knows that we have a unique response to this seemingly simple question.

“When I grow up, I want to be happy.”

Sadly, being happy is much easier said than done, especially in the past couple of years with the numerous unforeseen changes we have all had to face. During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States saw a 25% increase in child and adolescent depression cases. Anxiety in children and teens also rose dramatically by about 20%.

Children’s lives are constantly changing, whether they are moving to a new school, dealing with their parents’ divorce, or even facing challenges with friends. For this reason, parents need to notice when their child is not feeling their best and have the proper resources to help.

Notice changes in your child’s behavior

Thankfully, many signs of disturbances in a child’s mental health are well studied and easy to spot. Be on the lookout for signs of recent changes in their behavior, such as not wanting to do activities they used to like, becoming aggravated easily, and changes in their social and academic life at school.

Some examples of worrying behavior may include:

  • Not behaving in school
  • Not getting along with or hanging out with friends
  • Changes in grades
  • Changes in regular eating and sleeping routines
  • Low energy levels or irritability

Everyone has a bad day once in a while. Still, kids exhibiting worrying behavior for more extended periods may be showing signs of anxiety, depression, or another mental health disorder.

Talk with your children and let them know that it’s okay not to feel okay.

This is an important step in allowing your child to feel comfortable sharing their feelings with others. Talking it out can help them visualize the issue from a different point of view and let them know they are not alone.

In addition to a strong support system of family and friends, many lifestyle factors such as exercising consistently, eating healthy, and getting enough sleep can dramatically improve mental health and overall quality of life.

If you are concerned that your child may be showing signs of a mental health disorder, there are many options to get the help they need.

Talking to your pediatrician is often the next best step.

Your child’s pediatrician can help you decide if speaking with a mental health professional may be a good idea. They will help see if you should see a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, or licensed professional counselor. Your child’s school may also have a counselor who can guide you in the right direction.

The 211 Hotline is a helpful resource that children and parents can call at any time, day or night, to speak with someone and be directed to local mental health resources.

If your child’s behavior is unsafe, or if your child talks about wanting to hurt themselves or someone else, seek help immediately.

To learn more about pediatrician-approved ways to detect and treat children’s mental health issues, visit healthychildren.org or contact the Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Miami, a program supported by The Children’s Trust, at 305-243-9080.