Written by Alex Seibert, Chief Marketing Officer, ParentMD
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Katy Hopkins, Ph.D., HSPP, pediatric psychologist, on how to approach mental health as parents, what we need to know, and what we can do to help.
When I ask parents what topic they want more information on, it is almost always around or related to mental health. There has undoubtedly been increased awareness of mental health, what it means, and the resources to support people. Additionally, there has been a decrease in the stigma associated with the subject. However, I have found through talking to parents and clinical professionals like Dr. Hopkins that there’s still a lot of ground to cover and a lot of need.
In December of 2021, U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., issued a 53-page advisory titled, “Protecting Youth Mental Health: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory” warning the country that we are in an “urgent public health crisis.” Similarly, Dr. Hopkins shared that she is also seeing kids and teens struggling with mental illness at rates that we haven't ever seen in the past. She is seeing:
While many mental health needs were present before, the pandemic has significantly impacted this crisis. And yet another factor is the social unrest and polarizing society that has developed in the last 5-6 years.
“We are doing ourselves a disservice if we don’t acknowledge the stress that this has caused in schools and in our homes,” said Dr. Hopkins.
One positive thing the pandemic has provided is finally launching telehealth to address mental health concerns, providing more patient access options. Additionally, with an increased awareness of the great need for mental health support, healthcare systems and communities are finding innovative and effective ways to help provide access where it is needed. For example, delivery care models have been created to deliver support in primary care practices and school systems.
However, there is still a significant need for more mental health professionals and access to care.
Just like in other healthcare organizations, mental health professionals need to triage patients to serve everyone as best as possible. One of the misnomers that Dr. Hopkins shared with me was that if someone has access to a therapist or mental health professional, they may not necessarily need to see them on a regular basis or for extended periods. Instead, they should see them as long as they need to build the strategies and skills that will help them manage their condition or return to mental wellness.
The role of mental health professionals is to:
Dr. Hopkins shared with me that some of her work is reframing with patients what a visit with her looks like – it’s not a session for the child to vent about what might have happened that week at school, but rather give them tools to cope and manage stress in a healthy way.
She also coaches parents on how to talk to their children about their big feelings and create a safe space for them to talk about their day.
Preventing mental illness starts at home, from day one, by building resiliency and self-efficacy, teaching kids that they can handle things, and showing children that they are important contributors to society.
Our natural instinct as parents is to rescue our kids from distress, distract them from their discomfort, or dismiss their feelings. We don’t want them to feel anxious, sad, or mad. So it’s very natural to want to take away their discomfort. As a result, parents set up a life without much (if any) adversity and problem-solving, which can lead to kids with little resilience.
Dr. Hopkins explained that what is appropriate for parents is to let their children feel unbalanced. Let them feel the range of their emotions. Then, support them instead of accommodating them by acknowledging their feelings and giving them the confidence to cope with the situation:
“I know you are sad about this, but I know that you will find a way to get through it.”
One of the key ingredients of building resiliency is giving children opportunities to contribute to other people, their households, and society. When you do this, you’re not only building resiliency. You’re giving kids the tools to problem-solve, manage stress, become good citizens, and so much more.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, please text or call 988.
Learn more from Dr. Hopkins on the ParentMD podcast and her specialty video course.
If you are looking for additional mental health support and parent coaching, check out ParentMD’s virtual emotional and social support service through Hearts Connected. Members get access to unlimited 20-minute consultations per topic and deeply discounted extended sessions with a Child Life Specialist, trained in helping kids learn to cope with life’s challenges.