You probably know what to expect when it comes time for your child’s annual well visit: height and weight measurements, timely vaccines, nutrition counseling, and possibly a physical. As primary care physicians, pediatricians are charged with the head-to-toe wellness of their patients. That means that now—more than ever—providers are better addressing mental health as routinely as physical health.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, about 1 in 5 children and adolescents in the United States have a diagnosable mental health disorder that interferes with daily functioning and requires help. The National Alliance on Mental Illness says that half of these mental health conditions develop by age 14, and 75% by age 24.
In 2018, a youth-led research group called StAMINA (Student Alliance for Mental Health Innovation and Action) presented their Kentucky-based research conducted under the guidance of professionals at the University of Louisville. Across 9 youth focus groups, they found that prominent stressors include:
• Time pressure (Struggling to balance too many responsibilities)
• Academic concerns
• Social pressure to “fit in,” and social media setting unrealistic standards
• High expectations to succeed
• Uncertainty about identity and plans for the future
To cope, some young people may turn to damaging mechanisms like self-harm or substance abuse. Even if they don’t attempt these risky behaviors, ignoring their struggles can be just as harmful. Young people may fear that if their issues are revealed, they may face a lack of support in the form of a “what’s wrong with you?” attitude or expectations to “get better” that don’t align with their own goals. Further, parents themselves report a fear of being labeled “bad parents” if their child has mental health issues.
Pediatricians can serve as a first line of assistance for kids and parents alike. They offer a familiar, trusting setting with a professional who has (likely) known your child for an extended time. As someone knowledgeable about their long-term health and development, your pediatrician is prepared to identify changes in behavior or make effective referrals. Parents and guardians should feel free to discuss mental, behavioral, or emotional concerns as readily as physical ailments.
“We see kids struggling with stress and depression each day, and parents are often at a loss for how to support their child,” said Dr. Terence McKenna, Board Certified Pediatrician at Prospect Pediatrics, a division of ONE Pediatrics. “The good news is, having an open dialogue with your child’s pediatrician is an excellent first step in dealing with the pressures of childhood and adolescence. Parents should absolutely talk about their concerns with their pediatrician. Together they can develop an approach or even a care plan, if needed.”
It’s important to note that children and adolescents are supposed to experience a range of emotions as they develop. It’s normal for them to feel sad, anxious, or even depressed in the face of challenging life events. Having open conversations about emotional well-being even when they’re doing well opens the door for them to be more transparent when something is wrong. Open conversation, exercise, meditation and social activities are all positive coping mechanisms for the tough days, and making time to slow down and release the mental load deserves a regular place on the list of priorities.
One Pediatrics is a medical group comprised of highly esteemed physician-owned private practices specializing in pediatric care in the Kentuckiana region. To date, there are seven affiliated groups with ten locations: All Star Pediatrics, East Louisville Pediatrics, Kaplan Barron Pediatrics, Oldham County Pediatrics, Prospect Pediatrics, South Louisville Pediatrics and Springs Pediatrics. We are the first in the Louisville area to achieve Level 3 Patient-Centered Medical Home designation. For more information about our growing medical group visit https://onepediatrics.com