Mental Health Awareness Month: Child Advocates joins the conversation

Posted on May 5th, 2022

Every May, we as a community recognize Mental Health Awareness month, try to educate ourselves on the importance of mental health, and promise to provide support to those facing mental health challenges… but how does this personally affect you?

Do you refer to a checklist and take stock of your own current mental health? Do you check in on your friends/family and offer support to those struggling? Do you share resources online that could benefit you, a friend, or even help alter the stigma surrounding mental health?

It is difficult to know what action to take against an issue as far-reaching and abstract as mental health. To put it simply, Mental Health America defines mental health as one’s “emotional and social well-being and [it] impacts how we think, feel, and behave. It plays a role in connecting with others, making decisions, handling stress, and many other aspects of daily life.”

Millions of people across the United States are currently struggling with their own mental health or are facing mental health-related illnesses. More than five million of those individuals are children. This May, we not only recognize all youth facing mental health challenges, but we vow to help break the stigma surrounding this growing issue through our new Children’s Mental Health Program.

As the new statewide access site for the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction Children’s Mental Health Wraparound (CMHW) program, we will serve youth and families experiencing serious mental health or behavioral challenges by connecting them to supports and services. Our Family Liaisons will assist youth and families with the application process for the wraparound program, which includes an initial assessment process to collaborate with families in identifying any ongoing need for support. For all youth & families who may not qualify for the wraparound services through DMHA, Child Advocates will assist in making referrals for these individuals within their community in an effort to support their social, emotional, and behavioral well-being.

Erika Davis, the new Director of the Children’s Mental Health Program, a former clinical director in the area of preservation services, and a former Guardian ad Litem for youth in the Marion County child welfare system, is excited to return to Child Advocates and lead the organization’s evolving work in this new space. Through her work as a clinician and advocate, Erika has witnessed the effects of individualized support. She is confident the new program will significantly impact the growing issue of children’s mental health, as well as alter the current stigmatized conversation.

“There has always been this stigma around mental health, especially for youth,” Erika says. “It is paramount that we normalize the overall conversation on mental health so that children feel comfortable discussing it and families are more comfortable seeking help. Just as you would go to the doctor for a broken arm, you should feel comfortable seeking the appropriate help for depression or anxiety.”

Children face a multitude of stressors and pressures on a daily basis, both internally and externally. Children are coping with the pressure to fit in, confusion surrounding their developing bodies, and the stress of uncontrollable emotions and hormones. They are processing a diverse and complex world, trying to wrap their minds around its vastness and where exactly they fit into it.

Fear of being ostracized externally or dissatisfied with oneself internally prevents youth from speaking up about any mental health issues they may be experiencing. This shame placed on children both by themselves and by society deters a child from asking for help, prolongs the time it takes to access necessary support, and can intensify the negative effects youth may experience from mental health issues for the rest of their lives.

“The social pressure to fit in worsens the current issues of mental health that children today are facing,” Erika says. “Platforms like TikTok and Instagram are just exacerbating the issue. They create this template or mold that children think is the ideal person that they must conform to. They are always striving to reach this goal, rather than exploring who they are and working on being happy with themselves.”

Child Advocates launched its new Children’s Mental Health Program on May 2nd and plans to continue both evolving and expanding the program to best meet the mental health needs of the state’s youth.

“Through our new program, we will be directly helping families and kids get connected to these mental health resources and services. We will be able to meet the families where they are, help families link up with resources in their own communities or connect them to the wraparound program. Either way, we will be providing support and helping spread awareness on an issue that needs a great deal more light at the end of the day,” Erika says.

Mental Health is an expansive and personalized issue that cannot be tackled through one action or one program. It, like physical health, is something that requires constant maintenance, attention, and care. The first step society must take together is opening up the conversation to allow inclusive and judgment-free dialogue so children, as well as adults, feel safe and empowered to explore their own mental health.

To learn more about Child Advocates new program, go to: https://www.childadvocates.net/programs/childrens-mental-health/