INDIANAPOLIS — As Hoosiers inch their way through the coronavirus pandemic, more and more people are talking about the importance of good mental health.
Indiana University Chief Health Officer Dr. Aaron Carroll said the mental health of children should also be a priority.
"It is more important than ever to check in with your kids," Carroll said. "Make sure everything is going well, and to get them help sooner than later if they need it."
Carroll said the stresses of the pandemic have worn away mental health, with ongoing concerns about adjusted work schedules, overall well-being, and incorporating the "new normal."
Now, throw in the yearly stresses of "back to school," and it can be overwhelming for some students and families.
"The more you can do, the better," Carroll said. "The more you can do to normalize those kinds of check-ins, the more you can do to talk about how this is something you, as a parent, had not only as a child, but still to this day, normalizes it for kids, so they don't feel like they are doing something wrong, or it is something they should be ashamed of, or it's something that they need to just swallow."
How do families go about checking in with their children?
"I think the biggest mistake people make is thinking they need to have 'a talk,' and that they wait until things have reached a certain level of problem before they actually intervene," Carroll said. "Of course, the sooner you talk to your kids, the better. If you are checking in often about their mental health and how they are feeling, then it won't become something that becomes an issue that you worry about engaging in, either from your child or your perspective."
As students get older, Carroll said there can be added pressures – emotionally, physically and socially. Carroll said it's important to check on students of all ages.
At Indiana University, leaders launched a strategic plan to improve student mental health on campus.
"I think it's important that we get used to the idea that mental health is a lifelong concern and something we have to keep working on, just as we do physical health," Carroll said. "Certainly, we would never say, 'You've reached a certain age. Now you don't have to worry about your health anymore.' The same is true with mental health."
Carroll suggests families focus on the positives of returning to school, like seeing friends again, participating in sports, or learning a favorite subject.
"If we try to pretend that we're all great, and we're all doing fine, then kids want to emulate that, want to ignore signs or concerns, when we want the opposite to occur," Carroll said. "I think the more that we can talk about this as something that effects everyone, and that it is a normal part of life, and that we need to address it just like we do physical health where everyone has issues as well, it'll be a little bit easier."