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Mental Health Awareness Month: Child stress levels on the rise, expert offers tips for parents

Mental Health Awareness Month: Child stress levels on the rise, expert offers tips for parents

PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Children are more stressed than ever. 

“I have definitely seen an increase in children needing mental health care in the past few years,” said Dr. Kapil Aedma, a child psychiatrist with UnityPoint Health.

He said the amount of referrals from primary care doctors has gone up by at least 50%. 

The country was already seeing an increase in mental health issues among children, and Aedma said the pandemic and its fallout have exacerbated the issue. 

Aedma pointed out, however, that the increase in diagnosis or treatments for mental health issues is also the result of a broader awareness of mental health issues. 

“The stigma has been going down, day by day,” he said. “More people are seeking out mental help. At the same time, the increase in stressors, both because of societal changes and environmental exposures … are contributing to the increase in mental health problems across all ages.”

School, sports, tests, etc. can be stressors for any child growing up. Aedma said most children deal with those stressors appropriately; it’s the ones who do not handle the stress well that show red flags for mental health issues. 

“Over the past few years, the pandemic and how they are doing things, and the changes in political affairs, and obviously exposure to a lot of things on social media, has affected the exposure to negative things that can increase their stress levels and cause more mental problems,” Aedma said. 

How can communities help their youth with high stress levels?

“As a parent, you have to be role models for your kids,” Aedma said. “You have to learn how to deal with stress yourself.”

He mentioned meditation, relaxation techniques, art, exercising, and maintaining healthy habits as ways to combat stress. 

Parents should also take the time to listen to their children’s struggles and validate their feelings. He said often, complaints are dismissed. He also emphasized making time for family activities.