Beating the stigma around mental health, addiction as students head back to the classroom

Nearly one in five adults live with a mental illness, and one in five children ages 13-18 have or will.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — If you’re struggling with mental health issues, you’re not alone. Nearly one in five adults live with a mental illness, and one in five children ages 13-18 have or will have a serious mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

On top of that substance use disorders and other mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression sometimes occur together, but it doesn’t mean one caused the other.

As students head back to school for the 2022-2023 school year, 10TV sat down with Dr. Ameena Kemavor, vice president of advocacy and engagement for the Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health Board of Franklin County, to discuss how parents can address mental health issues in children to try to head off substance misuse.

Kiona Dyches: As a parent or caregiver, what is the first step you should take to protect your child’s mental health?

Dr. Kemavor: “We want to think about the home right, so our environment is something that we take in, and what we take in comes out of us eventually. And so being able to model health and wellness in the home is key.”

Dyches: How can you help your child who may be dealing with mental health challenges as they return to school?

Dr. Kemavor: “If you find that your child is having a challenge in their ability to live, to laugh, and to love, then there may be some underlying, you know, things happening. First, you should be communicating with your child on a regular basis, you know, to and from school, extracurricular activities, learning how to have difficult conversations that you know over things that could be happening in your child’s life, staying in touch with their teachers, their education, staff, their coaches.”

Dyches: What types of behaviors would let you know that your child has a mental health problem?

Dr. Kemavor: “Behaviors could look like eating more or less than they used to, sleeping more or less than they used to, possible behavioral changes at home or at school, like in the classroom, academic performance changes, changes with extracurricular sports, even some mood swings or outbursts. And most especially, if your child is beginning to socially withdraw from their friends, or activities and isolate themselves, that would be a cause for concern.”

Dyches: How do you know when it’s time to reach out for help from a professional?

Dr. Kemavor: “With that live, laugh, and love, it’s really important to just trust your instincts. You know your child, so be observational about how they’re experiencing their world. You know, what is it that they may be going through right now? Have they recently suffered a loss? Are they processing a breakup? Are they processing a friendship that maybe, you know, didn’t go the way that they had intended? And then we also want to make sure that if there’s any history of mental illness in our families, then we want to make sure that we acknowledge that as well.”

Dyches: What should you do if it appears your child has turned into substance misuse to cope with mental health challenges?

Dr. Kemavor: “Just take a breath. First, take a beat and kind of process what you suspect is actually happening and doing some of those observational key checks. You know, what is your child experiencing in their life right now? A factor that may be contributing to deciding this suspected use? And in addition to that, if you to approach your child do it from a very non-judgmental, open, no-blame lens, we want the best possible outcome of that particular conversation. “

Dyches: Are certain people more vulnerable when it comes to mental health challenges and substance misuse?

Dr. Kemavor: “Mental illness can, you know, start to show in early childhood as well as those teen very formative years, most notably the age group of about 18 to 25 years old. But instead of being more prescriptive on exactly what you know, age, my child is that they may have a mental illness, or, you know, be involved in substance use it’s really again that observation lens, like paying attention to how your child is responding to their actual environment. So, no one gets out of this, right? This is something that could happen to any of us at any given time in our life, it really just depends on a number of factors that it may not be connected to genetics or environment , it could just be what we are exposed to, that we just didn’t know would have such an impact on us.

10TV has partnered with the Ohio Opioid Alliance to help “beat the stigma” surrounding mental health and addiction.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or addiction or you want to know more about the stigma surrounding them, visit beatthestigma.org for more information.

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