What Is Mental Health?
Mental health is how we think, feel, and act in order to face life’s situations. It is how we look at ourselves, our lives, and the people we know and care about. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, evaluate our options, and make choices. Like physical health, mental health is important at every stage of life.
Mental Health Problems
It is easy for parents to recognize when a child has a high fever. A child’s mental health problems may be more difficult to identify. Mental health problems can’t always be seen, but the symptoms can be recognized. Mental health problems can be diagnosed because mental health professionals have studied and documented the symptoms. Some of these problems are depression, anxiety, conduct, eating, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders.
Mental health problems affect one in every five young people at any given time. Tragically, an estimated two-thirds of all young people with mental health problems are not getting the help they need.
Many children and adolescents have periods of emotional stress that would benefit from short term treatment, but those problems would not necessarily result in what is called a “diagnosable” mental health problem. Examples of these mental health problems may include grieving the loss of a loved one or improving family relationships.
A child’s mental health has no relationship to his or her intellectual capacity. Children with and without the aforementioned mental health problems have IQ scores that range from low to high.
Special education is one of the support services schools provide to meet the unique needs of children and adolescents who have many types of mental health problems as well as the needs of children who have physical health problems. Not everyone in special education has a mental health problem, and not every child or adolescent with a mental health problem is receiving special education.
Serious Emotional Disturbances
The phrase, serious emotional disturbances for children and adolescents, refers to mental health problems that are severely disrupting daily life and functioning at home, at school, or in the community. Serious emotional disturbances affect 1 in every 10 young people at any given time. Without help, such mental health problems can lead to school failure, alcohol or other drug abuse, family discord, violence or even suicide.
We don’t know all the causes of mental health problems in young people. We do know that both environment and biology can be involved. Examples of biological causes are genetics, chemical imbalances, and damages to the central nervous system. The medical profession refers to these as neurobiological disorders.
Many environmental factors can put children at risk. For example, children who are exposed to violence, abuse, neglect, lead poisoning, or loss of loved ones through death, divorce, or broken relationships are more at risk for mental health problems. Other risk factors include rejection because of race, sexual orientation, religion, or poverty.