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Children’s mental health and wellness deserve extra care right now – Marin Independent Journal

The American Academy of Pediatrics declares that “more than 14 million children and adolescents in the United States, or 1 in 5, have a diagnosable mental health disorder.”  That’s 20% of all children.

Authors of the 2017 report titled “Behavioral Health Integration in Pediatric Primary Care” said it well: “Children’s physical and behavioral health needs are distinct from those of adults, as they are heavily influenced by stages of development, as well as by family, social, and educational environments.”

Indeed, “children can show clear characteristics of anxiety disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and neurodevelopmental disabilities, such as autism, at a very early age,” according to a brief from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.

Meanwhile, we suffered through the COVID-19 pandemic, which only magnified mental health issues. It’s been three and a half years since the first “stay at home” order was issued. The accumulation of stress, anxiety, learning disruptions (as well as delays) and family pressures have been serious for parents as well as teens, “tweens” and preschoolers.

According to the Children’s Mental Health Network, 80% of chronic mental health disorders begin in childhood. Also, data shows that children and families are in serious need of community resources to support their social and mental well-being.

“When children do experience mental health disorders that go untreated or poorly managed,” CMHN reported, “it affects individual children and families but also has significant consequences for a range of systems, including health care, child welfare, juvenile justice, and public education.”

If you’re concerned that your child may be experiencing mental health issues, developmental delays, behavioral problems or may have an undiagnosed disability, seek the advice of your pediatrician or health clinic, and reach out to early intervention support programs such as “Help Me Grow Marin” as soon as possible.

As we emerge from the pandemic, families are also facing an accumulation of stress and worries. It can be difficult to distinguish between depression and exhaustion, as well as changes in your physiology as you are managing sleepless nights and prioritizing the needs of an infant — or the demands of a teenager.

That’s why parental self-care is an important component of children’s mental health and wellness.

Parents should not hesitate to seek and access support services — including postpartum care for mothers and counseling for both parents. As the saying goes, parents should “put their own oxygen mask on first.”

It’s clear that community resources such as physical and mental health care, quality early learning opportunities and experiences, healthy nutrition and parent support are all critical for the immediate and long-term well-being of our children. Existing programs need more funding, and we need significantly more providers and services to address existing needs — especially in Marin County.

There are also some national or statewide initiatives, like the “Stronger Starts” program recently launched by First 5 California. Stronger Starts works to raise awareness about “toxic stress” among parents and caregivers and how “Adverse Childhood Experiences (or ACEs) can be the cause. Go to for more information.

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