Editor’s note: The following guest column was written by Delaware Education Secretary Mark Holodick and Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families (DSCYF) Secretary Josette Manning.
As parents or guardians, we tend to react quickly when our children’s physical health is in question. If children show physical symptoms, get injured, or express they don’t feel right, we immediately ask questions and seek medical guidance and care. Parents and guardians are also pros at prevention — making sure children get vaccines and wellness exams and keeping an eye out for anything unusual that may indicate they are sick or hurt. That same level of attention and action for prevention and treatment is critical to supporting children’s mental health.
Many children will experience a mental health and/or substance use problem before age 18. In a survey of 80,000 youth around the world, 1 in 4 reported depressive symptoms and 1 in 5 experienced anxiety symptoms. Those rates are double what they were before the pandemic and we also know that more children have experienced trauma in response to COVID. The good news is that there are things that caregivers can do to help promote children’s mental wellbeing. Children thrive in the presence of thriving adults who support them in co-regulation and processing their emotions. When a child has an emotionally healthy, caring adult in their life, it can help buffer against stress and help them to navigate experiences with resilience. Anyone can be that adult for a child and make a real difference in their life. How? One of the easiest ways is for caregivers to talk with the children in their care—naturally, regularly, and intentionally as a part of daily life. Ask how they are feeling in general and about specific situations, like an upcoming social gathering or recent world event. These talks can take place in the car, standing in line, or at the dinner table. Be an active listener and show interest in all aspects of their life and the things that matter to them. And don’t hesitate to talk with them if you are concerned about their mental health and ask whether they are thinking about or planning suicide. If you are concerned about a child in crisis, you should call the 24/7 Child Crisis Line, also known as Mobile Resource Stabilization Service, at 1-800-969-HELP (4357).
In addition to a caring adult, research shows that prevention and treatment programs do work and there are resources available to help children and their families through the Delaware Children’s Department Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services (DPBHS) and the Department of Education (DOE) and local schools.
The Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services (DPBHS) provides free summer prevention programs for children and teens that promote resilience, develop positive relationships with peers and adults and build life skills. Families and community members can contact the division’s Prevention Helpline to learn about these services by calling (302) 633-2680, Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., or by email at PBHS_Prevention_Inquiries@delaware.gov . You can click here to see the current catalogue of programs: https://kidsfiles.delaware.gov/pdfs/pbh-summer-prevention-programs-2022.pdf. You can also visit DPBHS’ website to learn more about covered treatment services https://kids.delaware.gov/prevention-and-behavioral-health-services/information-for-families/.
Delaware schools support children through wellness promotion, monitoring for early warning signs, and screening for risks. Students may access group and individualized supports for building social and emotional skills. The state’s Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Wellbeing Plan provides infrastructure for this response system, integrating the innovations from Project DelAWARE – designed to reduce the stigma associated with mental health access – and Project THRIVE – which contracts directly with mental health provider organizations to offer trauma-specific interventions for ALL uninsured and under-insured students, regardless of whether they attend public or private schools demonstration project funded by the US Department of Education. Both of these programs have increased mental health equity for children and youth across our state. Students or parents and caregivers on their behalf can learn more by calling 211 or texting their zip code to 898-211.