Updated: Jun 4
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. To me, that does not mean that this is the only month we should care about mental health, but serves as a reminder about how important mental health is. In the U.S., one in five adults experience mental illness, and one in six youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder annually. Further reported by the National Alliance on Mental Health is that 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24. Additionally in the U.S., suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34. So, we need to start talking about mental health and about how to reduce stigma.
Growing up, I struggled with my mental health. Feeling alone and not being able to talk about my feelings was even more difficult than the other challenges I was going through. It took me a long time to open up and express my inner thoughts and struggles. However, rather than receiving love, support, and empathy, my feelings were dismissed. As I got older, talking about mental health was slowly becoming more normalized but little focus was placed on child mental health. Fortunately, I eventually found the support I needed, allowing me to work through the challenges I faced.
Some of the greatest challenges surrounding child mental health are awareness, accessibility, and affordability. The lack of awareness regarding the subject leads to many children suffering in silence. The lack of accessibility and affordability for professional mental health services can also leave children unable to receive the necessary support in a timely fashion. These obstacles are what led me to pursue a career in the field of social work, especially at America SCORES New York (ASNY).
The values of ASNY align so closely with my own that working with ASNY seemed like the perfect fit. Helping children learn more about social justice and social-emotional learning through soccer, poetry, and civic engagement creates a great balance. The physical activity and team spirit that soccer provides immensely helps children build a sense of community. Poetry is an excellent way of transforming one’s feelings into words or something even more beautiful - an experience I have witnessed during the poetry sessions. Finally, helping others through civic engagement is a way for people to feel more positive and happy about themselves. All of these different platforms that ASNY provides target different ways to help their young people find their sense of self.
After working with ASNY for a few months, I decided to develop and implement a wellness curriculum that also focused on social-emotional learning and included different forms of wellness activities. I wanted to create a space where individuals intentionally talked about wellbeing. The sessions exposed children to various forms of wellness activities such as journaling, mindful breathing, and yoga and our poet-athletes have responded well to these sessions - they are engaged and expressed feelings of being more self-aware.
The pandemic has taken more away from children than seems fair. Their ability for physical interaction, social emotional learning, and building relationships has become so limited, leaving many children feeling isolated and alone. Although many people have come up with creative ways to help reduce children’s loneliness, children still continue to suffer. Rates of depression and anxiety among children have increased during the pandemic and it has become more difficult for parents and guardians to help reassure children through the uncertainty. Further, children experience decreased/poor focus at school and are relying on technology more than ever to cope with boredom.
To help with the isolation and lack of in-person social-emotional learning, many people have turned to outdoor activities, such as going for walks and connecting with nature. Many have increased the activities they do as a family, including watching movies, playing board games, painting, or making puzzles. Having socially distanced play dates have become a new norm and group activities that can be done at a distance, like going biking or playing games outdoors, has also helped many individuals. Of course, many individuals have turned to Zoom or Facetime not only as a way to stay connected with their friends, family, and loved ones, but to hold a space to talk through emotions in group settings such as, work meetings or online classrooms. At ASNY, 92% our poet-athletes expressed that SCORES programming helped them throughout the course of the pandemic. While there is more awareness about the need for mental health check-ins and provision of emotional support for one another, this has provided a new way to connect with those we need most.
I encourage everyone to take some additional time out of their day and check in with their loved ones a bit more. Help a stranger. Spread kindness. You never know what someone is going through, and how your words and actions can change an individual’s life forever. The past 14 months have presented new difficulties for everyone in expected and unexpected ways. Be kind to yourself! You are doing the best that you can.
With the recent CDC guidance change surrounding masks, people themselves will begin feeling freer and it will improve mental health for adults and youth alike. I think the slow, but steady reopening will bring us into a renewed hope as we, in many ways, start again.
If you or someone you know needs additional support, please see the links below.
National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
National Institute of Mental Health: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/
Crisis Text Line-: http://www.crisistextline.org/ Just text “start” to 742742
Reach Out: www.reachout.com
National Alliance on Mental Health: https://www.nami.org/mhstats
The Recovery Village: https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/mental-health/news/may-mental-health-awareness-month/