By Nyesha Stone
Mental health is real and anyone at any age can be diagnosed with a mental illness.
In adolescents, there are many factors that contributes to a child’s mental development: religion, school, friends and family, said Dr. Steven Dykstra, the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division (BHD) director.
Every year, 13 percent of children ages 8-15 suffer from a mental illness, according to Milwaukee County. And about half of mental illnesses begin at the age of 14-years-old. Children need a healthy development that prepares them socially, emotionally, and educationally to survive traumatic experiences, according to Milwaukee County BHD.
Dr. Dykstra said there are three things a child needs to have to be mentally healthy: Safety and security, relationships and language.
The very first step is to have a sense of safety and security, and the meaning of what the child feels safe changes over time. No matter how old a child gets, safety will always play a part in a child’s mental development. The second step is to have strong, healthy, supportive and meaningful relationships, said Dr. Dykstra. Children need to have relationships with children their age, people older than them, with their caregivers, and with people outside of their family. Children need someone they can confine in, share their ideas with and just someone to talk to.
A child with healthy relationships mixed with safety and security, is on the right track to a healthy mental development, said Dr. Dykstra.
The last step is language.
“Children who struggle with reading struggle with school,” said Dr. Dykstra. “It’s hard to develop in a healthy positive way.” It’s important for a child to be able to understand and then express their thoughts, ideas and opinions with those around them. A child who can’t use language efficiently are likely to struggle more than other children.
But again, these are preventative steps that can be taken though mental illnesses can still occur. Dr. Dykstra’s team goes out into the community after trauma has occurred to ensure youth and family have the support they need to move forward because they know how serious mental illnesses can be.
There are some children who are born with mental illnesses, meaning they can’t prevent it. These steps can still be used to help that child control their illness.
Mental illness is preventable, especially in children, if the right steps are taken. To find out more information on mental health visit http://county.milwaukee.gov/MHconvo.