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What Should Parents Watch For When Monitoring Their Kids’ Mental Health?

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – As families navigate the mental and emotional obstacles the pandemic has presented, there are a few simple things parents can do right now to monitor their children’s mental health.

Rebecca Dutson is the president of The Children’s Center, a Utah nonprofit focused on children’s mental health.

She said the first thing is to watch for your children going through the healthy development steps for their age. Even things like temper tantrums or outbursts can be signs of healthy development.

However, if you start to see more tantrums than usual or other behavior that’s out of the ordinary, that can be a sign that something else is at play.

“It becomes something more when we’re like, ‘Hmm, this is not something that is falling into a pattern I understand or recognize. It’s changing, it’s different, it’s not what I thought,’” Dutson said. “That’s the point that I say, ‘Check in with your pediatrician for starters.’”

She said your pediatrician can help you have conversations with your child to find out what needs they have and guide you to additional support if necessary.

National cost estimates of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders among youth amount to $247 billion per year.

“Very young children have mental health needs,” Dutson said. “They have mental health just like youth and adults do and I don’t think we stop and think about that.”

Dutson said parents know their child best and to take action if they are concerned about their child’s mental health.

“If you feel something is off, or just not right, that’s what you should be watching for,” she said.

Throughout the process, parents should focus on building a strong, trusting relationship with their child.

“Think about your own life when you felt like somebody had your back you could pretty much deal with almost anything that came your way,” Dutson said.

A recent study by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah said that research shows a link between not attending to a child’s mental health in the very early years and the rest of their lives.

“National cost estimates of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders among youth amount to $247 billion per year in mental health and health services, lost productivity, and crime,” the study said.

There are also some signs of depression parents should keep an eye out for.

According to the Utah State Board of Education, parents and teachers should listen for:

  • Talk of suicide (“I just want to go to sleep and never wake up,” “If _____ happens, I’ll kill myself”)
  • Talk of feeling hopeless (“What is the point? Nothing is going to get better”)
  • Talk of feeling like a burden to others (“They would be better off without me”)

Parents and teachers should watch for children who are:

  • Looking for ways to commit suicide, such as searching online for materials or means
  • Isolating themselves from family and friends
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Displaying one or more of the following moods: depression, anxiety, loss of interest, irritability, humiliation, agitation, rage
  • Exhibit a sudden or unexplained calm or euphoria after a long day of depression
  • Saying goodbyes or tying up loose ends

SUICIDE PREVENTION RESOURCES 

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call the Utah State Crisis Line1-800-273-TALK (8255). 

Additional Crisis Hotlines 

  • National Suicide Prevention Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741-741 
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386 

Online resources 

In an emergency 

  • Call 911 
  • Go to the emergency room 
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