Become a Children’s Mental Health Advocate May 22, 2017 Shannon FordHealth & Safety Providers 1 Comment by Shannon Ford, Professional Development Coordinator I am one of the millions of Americans diagnosed with a mental health condition. In fact, one in five of us are!1 Mental health problems are actually more common than heart disease, lung disease, and cancer combined.2 Anxiety disorder is something that causes me to worry a bit too much. At times, I can be restless and wound-up. Other times, I can be easily fatigued and have trouble concentrating. On top of this, I’m a single mother raising a teenage son dealing with depression and anxiety. It’s easy to see why mental health awareness is a topic close to my heart. Of course, early childhood topics are also an area close to my heart. I wake up each day, wondering how my work in the early childhood field impacts children. I am always looking for ways to grow my knowledge on all things early childhood. As our nation seeks to increase awareness about the importance of children’s mental health, I began to look at my own repertoire on the topic and find ways to increase my skill set on this important topic. Here’s what I found that may help you as a caregiver of young children. TAKE A CLOSER LOOK AT THE CHILDREN IN YOUR CARE For our youngest children, we define mental health more along the lines of social and emotional development and wellness. Ask yourself these questions about the children in your care. Are they: Forming close and secure relationships with adults and peers? Able to experience, express, and manage a full range of emotions and feelings? Able to explore the environment around them and learn? We know early experiences matter. Furthermore, they have a large impact on later mental and physical health. They also affect educational success, employment, and social well-being. ASK YOURSELF ABOUT YOUR CURRENT APPROACH It’s always good to evaluate your own practices. Take a look what you’re currently doing in your own program. What are you doing to build and strengthen life skills in young children? How are you promoting confidence in young children? Are there opportunities for problem-solving and conflict resolution? In what ways are you fostering empathy and compassion? LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES TO PROMOTE CHILDREN’S MENTAL HEALTH This February, I became a Youth Mental Health First Aider through a course offered by the Marion County Commission on Youth (MCCOY). Being endorsed as a Youth Mental Health First Aider has given me the tools to assist and support a child showing symptoms of a mental illness. Its tools can also help me with those children experiencing a mental health crisis until someone can reach professional help. Not only was this course beneficial to me as an early childhood expert, it has benefited me as a parent as well. 1 National Alliance on Mental Illness: https://www.nami.org/mentalhealthmonth 2 National Council for Behavioral Health, 2016 Cover image by Flickr user Aikawa Ke, Creative Commons license.