To the Editor,

Spring has finally arrived—and with it some much-needed sunlight. Self-care tip: Spending even 15 minutes in the sun each day can improve your mental health. So, keep the sun shining throughout the day!

For more than 20 years, the month of May has been designated as National Mental Health Awareness Month, and this year we also celebrated National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day on May 11. This is a special day to recognize that our children’s mental health matters—whether they are a toddler, preschooler, or teenager.

Many myths are circulating about children’s mental health and especially early childhood mental health (from 2 years of age to kindergarten entrance and beyond). Mental health symptoms can begin to develop in young children. They’re learning how to identify their feelings. In fact, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 6 children, ages 2 to 8, in the United States experiences a mental health disorder, behavioral disorder, or developmental disorder each year. 

Approximately 50 percent of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14. Very young children may and can show early warning signs of mental health concerns, but often they’re brushed aside with comments such as “kids will be kids.” Symptoms in children experiencing mental health challenges can include excessive worrying or anxiety, struggles about going to bed at night, frequent aggression or not following the rules, and temper tantrums.

Early mental health services can help a child before problems interfere with developmental growth. The most common mental health disorders young children experience are attention deficit disorder, behavioral problems, and depression. 

Remember that mental illness is not your fault. Research suggests many causes, such as genetics, environment, and traumatic life events, impact a person’s chance of developing a mental health disorder. 

If you feel like your child’s behaviors have changed, seek help from your child’s healthcare provider. Fill your language with positive words and encouragement when spending time with your child. And don’t forget to use the sun!

Marsha Erickson, West Central Initiative Early Childhood Specialist, and Carolyn Strnad, Early Childhood Mental Health Network Coordinator