When you know something is off with your child’s mental health, you just know. But often taking the steps to get them help can be a challenge. Once you have talked with your child, spoken with your insurance, made all the appropriate calls and appointments, and have gotten in front of a medical professional, it can feel like you will finally find the solution.
The truth is there is no single solution or “magic pill.” Mental health treatment is a complex process that is different for every child and every family; however, the investment into finding what will work best for you and your child is worth the time, energy and emotion.
Medication can help many children and adolescents struggling with depression, anxiety and attention disorders. But medication is just part of the answer. A well-rounded approach to mental health treatment has six components — medication being just one of them. There are many other places to look for solutions in addition to taking or considering a prescription.
The total picture of health
The best place to start is at the beginning. Try to collect as much information on your family medical history as possible and share it with your provider.
A full panel of bloodwork is a great way to check things like metabolism, thyroid levels, Vitamin D and blood sugar. All of these can affect mood and sleep, which in turn affect overall mental health. If there is a deficiency in one of these areas, supplements or other therapies can make a difference. Talk to your provider about what will work best.
The benefits of exercise extend beyond the physical benefits. It helps kids get off their electronics and keeps their minds active, occupied and not dwelling on negative thoughts. Even just a short walk around the block can make a big difference. It’s not about being athletic or even losing weight necessarily – it’s good for you and a great distraction.
Eating healthier and avoiding processed foods sounds obvious when treating many health concerns; however, there are specific reasons why a healthy diet can help treat a mental health disorder. For example, we need proteins and fat for neurological functioning.
Processed foods can have a negative effect on the gut, so your child may not be getting all of the vitamins and minerals needed from healthy foods. If your child is taking medication, his or her body may not be absorbing all of the benefits. Seeing a nutritionist can help with building a well-balanced plan for eating. Work toward healthier eating as a family and everyone will reap the rewards.
Sleep hygiene — getting better sleep on a regular basis — is one of the most overlooked yet effective tools in a treatment plan. Many of us think because we slept for eight plus hours, we are good to go, but we still may not be getting enough rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep affects memory, relieves anxiety, and helps to regulate male hormone secretion. Asking your child, “Do you feel rested?” or observing to see how much time they spend on electronics before bedtime can help to identify if there may be a lack of REM sleep. For a clearer picture, a sleep study can determine if your child’s sleep patterns, and give you insights on their sleep’s ability to regulate their mood, emotions and attention.
Encouraging your child to shut down their electronic devices a few hours before bedtime is one small step toward better sleep hygiene.
This is a tough one for some parents, but many mental health concerns can be better treated with changes in the home. Often times, medication is used so that your child can perform better in stressful situations, but you should also focus on removing what stress you can. This means more consistency, stability and structure at home.
Looking at your relationship with your partner and/or with yourself is important. Are you and your partner on the same page? Are you experiencing your own feelings of anxiousness or depression? Are there things that need to change? Don’t be discouraged by the answers to some or all of these questions.
You are not the first parent who has faced these challenges feeling like they can’t get it right. The important thing is that you’re working on it. No one is perfect. Don’t forget to tell yourself and your child that the job you’re doing or the progress they’re making is good enough.
Simply saying “good job” can have a huge impact. Show your kids it’s OK to make a mistake. Tell them you’re proud and be specific. Small things add up to big changes.
Being receptive to a full treatment plan for your child can be the difference between success and failure. There is no one magical solution, but when you are open to all of the potential solutions, and finding which ones works best for your child and your family, amazing things will happen right before your eyes.