Mental Health: The Basics

Health includes mental health. Everyone has mental health, including children.


Mental Health includes the way we think & feel, and further, how we respond to the world around us. Mental health is just as important as physical health – physical health is incomplete without mental health.


Childhood Mental Health

A healthy mind is important to a healthy life. The same is true for children. Children’s thoughts & feelings are directly related to their development – they increase in capacity over time, and with experience.


Some experiences can interfere with a child’s ability to develop emotionally and/or mentally (like big life changes, witnessing a crime, family violence, homelessness, food insecurity). Also, sometimes genetics play a part, too (if anxiety is in the family, it’s likely to be passed down).


As parents, it’s our job to provide opportunities for emotional development for our kids. While it might be difficult at times, we are in the best position to create an environment to do this.


Childhood Mental Health Problems


Half of all mental illness show up by the age of 14. 1 in 5 children/youth have a mental health disorder. That’s 20%. That’s 4 in every classroom-ish. It’s quite common (which is why we need to be informed).


This includes depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd), eating disorders, substance abuse, ADHD, oppositional defiance disorder, and more.


How do I know if my child is struggling with a mental health disorder?


Mental health struggles usually become a diagnosable disorder when they a) interfere with the child’s usual life (schooling, safety, relationships, and more), b) when the problems are persistent (meaning the don’t just resolve on their own).


If either of the above is true, it’s time to connect with a child mental health professional.


And/or c) your child is talking about suicide (sometimes kids don’t say it directly. In this case, you will need to ask them directly – and believe it or not, very young children can understand intentional dying, so it’s important to ask plainly & take it seriously if/when it comes up).


Don’t hesitate to call emergency services for help. They are prepared to assess the situation and support you as needed. 911 is an option, or your local community mental health crisis unit. Kids Help Phone is also an available resource for parents, teachers, counsellors, etc.

What are some symptoms of a childhood mental health disorder?

  • Persistent and unexplainable headaches, tummy aches, neck pain, or general aches and pains.

  • Avoidance of school, or new fear of school. 

  • Lacking energy, or feeling tired all the time.

  • Sleeping or eating problems.

  • Saying negative things about himself, or blaming self for things beyond his control.

  • Trouble concentrating (usually noticeable by teachers/educators)

  • Outbursts of anger.

  • Falling back to younger behaviours (bed-wetting, thumb sucking)

  • Trouble at school with friends.

  • Frequent negative/uncomfortable thoughts (sometimes called "bad thoughts" by the child).

  • Changes in school performance (often connected to decreased concentration),

  • Seeming worried, guilty, fearful, irritable, sad, or angry.

  • Crying easily.

  • Feeling helpless, hopeless, lonely or rejected.

  • Wanting to be alone often/seeming quieter than usual, less energetic.

  • Showing less interest in or withdrawing from sports, games or other activities that she normally enjoys.

  • This list is not exhaustive... if you're not sure about the symptoms & signs you see, contact a helping professional, or ask your doctor. 


Where do I find a helping professional?


  • School Counsellors, Social Workers and/or Psychologists

  • Guidance Counsellors

  • Resource Teachers

  • Community Health Clinic - Social Workers

  • Family Doctors & Nurse Practitioners

  • Child Psychologists (Google search for your location, they often own their own businesses)

  • Local Mental Health Centers (social workers, counsellors, psychiatrists and/or psychologists).

  • CMHA’s (Community Mental Health Associations for education, support & resources)

If you’d like to educate yourself on a specific disorder before reaching out to a helping professional, be careful which websites you search. There is a lot of information out there, and we all know that Googling symptoms is a sure way to create problems that don’t exist. I recommend the following websites for trusted, scientifically based information on childhood mental health issues:



One more thing:

The World Health Organization tells us that parent’s mental health is just as important as child mental health. Your mental health, as a parent, can actually prevent struggles for your child, both mentally and physically. Children are overall healthier, if you are emotionally healthy. If you’re struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out for support. There is no judgement. Parenting is hard, and if you’re concerned for your child’s wellness (I know you are because you’re here), then you’re already a great parent.

Healthy Emotional Development leads to high Emotional Intelligence (EQ – like IQ but for your emotions). EQ is linked to better long-term health outcomes (that’s right, not just feelings and stuff, but concrete, life-lengthening, improve-the-quality-of-your-whole-life science). Children with high EQ are said to perform better in school, and eventually in their jobs (because what good is calculus if you can’t get along with colleagues?)