Children’s mental Health: It’s up to adults and kids to get involved

With this first week of May being Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, the question might be “How are we, as a society, doing when it comes to being aware and caring about the mental health of our kids?”

Licensed Psychologist and Registered Nurse Dr. Rita Gray, Director of Clinical Training for the Will County Health Department’s Behavioral Health division, says adults taking action when children are mistreating each other can be one of the most important factors in preventing mental health problems, as well as other issues like drug and alcohol addiction, down the road.

Dr. Gray says it is especially important when it comes to bullying and cyberbullying issues. “I really think that if more adults were involved and taking action we would be better off. There are still cases of looking away. It could be cowardice, minimizing the situation, or perhaps giving it the ‘benefit of doubt’ that the situation will work itself out.”

Dr. Gray added that sometimes she will have a child in therapy for behavioral or drug issues, and it may not be until the third session or later that they admit severe bullying is in their background. Gray says when it comes to adults being involved and taking action; whether or not they do, even with their own kids, might be due to their own backgrounds.

“You can never take yourself out of it,” Gray said. She explained that a victim might feel shame or guilt as an adult, and therefore be in denial that it is also happening to their own child. Or they might be hesitant to talk to another adult about it for fear of a reaction along the lines of, “Well, I’m not surprised, I can see why you might have been bullied.”

But both Gray and Michelle Zambrano, a childhood and adolescence program manager for the health department, say that adults need to face their regrets about the past, or fear about getting involved now, and tell someone what is going on. It is for the good of the mental health of children, they say, as well as society as a whole. And they also remind everyone that if you know someone is being mistreated, or being terribly bullied on social media, speak to a teacher or adult at the school they attend.

“When you hear about quotes like, ‘You’re such a loser, why don’t you kill yourself, and then something happens, you can’t just say ‘I thought they were just kidding,’ said Gray.

We cannot have that kind of denial.”

Zambrano says it may take the next generation or two for the level of awareness about the effect of bullying and cyberbullying on children’s mental health to get where it should be. But she does have praise for what is happening today. “This is definitely an era of expanded knowledge. We are realizing the ramifications of unchecked bullying, and we are doing something. There’s a lot less tolerance for it, a lot more training in schools for faculty and students, and more of a safety net."