Mental Health Awareness Month: Counselor shares tips on mind matters
During Mental Health Month each May, community advocates nationwide battle the stigmatization of mental illness through advocacy and education.
The month was started in 1949 by the nonprofit Mental Health America after soldiers returning home from World War II showed signs of mental illness and trauma. It is now celebrated by empowering those struggling with mental illness to detail personal battles and increase the national understanding of mental wellness.
“There is a lot more acceptance in mental health, even from five years ago,” said Christina DeLoach, a licensed professional counselor at Marble Falls High School. “We are way more aware of mental health, but we still have a long way to go.”
While any age group can experience mental health issues, children are typically affected the most. Over 36.7 percent of adolescents ages 12-17 years old report “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness,” according to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the 2018-19 school year — before COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns exacerbated problems.
The study also showed that social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok can contribute to childhood angst.
“When you have a hard day at school or work, you’re supposed to decompress,” DeLoach said. “Decompressing used to mean picking up the phone and calling your friend to tell them all about how crappy your day was. Now, decompressing looks like going on social media and watching 50 videos about depression because you’ve had a bad day. By the end of that, what happens? You feel depressed.”
Outside of descending into negative social media echo chambers, children also fall victim to self-diagnosing. While it might seem innocent at first, medical introspection often fails to address the real, underlying issues young people face.
“If I were to log on to TikTok or Instagram, and I type in ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety,’ I’m going to get a whole list of videos about how to deal with it, how to diagnose it, and what causes it,” DeLoach said. “There’s a whole host of people who claim to be professionals in these videos. The likelihood is there is a great majority that are, but when you get that help in isolation and without future help, instead of making the problem better, it feeds into making the problem bigger.”
Social distancing during the pandemic made matters worse.
“There was a big loss of social skills,” DeLoach said. “Even the ability to sit and have a conversation and be able to keep eye contact and read somebody’s facial expression was lost.”
That lack of social contact has led to many children accepting isolation as the norm.
“People turned to social media a lot more during and after the pandemic,” DeLoach said. “We’ve gotten to a point where people can become consumed by it. That takes them away from experiencing a connection with another human being.”
Isolation can heighten pre-existing mental health issues, she continued.
“Connection is so important for mental health,” DeLoach said. “When we feel connected to someone, we feel valued, heard, and seen. Those are the things that build us up as people. When you don’t have that connection, it can be really hard.”
While it might seem nearly impossible to help your child navigate their way into adulthood without incurring some form of anxiety or depression, there are many ways to encourage communication.
“I think it’s important to find that thing that you and your child click on,” DeLoach said. “Maybe it’s fishing, a TV show, a video game, or vacation, just anything that allows you to connect with your child.”
It also helps to be watchful of sudden changes in your child’s behavior.
“There are kids who will say they need help, but there are also kids who need help who will never ask for it,” DeLoach said. “If you notice a change in your child, in your teen, it’s time to reach out to someone and find the help they need.”
Children can also help themselves reverse the cycle. Marble Falls ISD students who receive counseling care are given several handouts, including “101 Positive Things To Say To Myself” and “99 Coping Skills,” to teach them how to overcome mental health episodes and anxiety attacks.
“If you’re having an anxiety attack, name five things in the room,” DeLoach said. “It takes your focus from your thoughts and what’s going on in your brain to what’s real and tangible.”
DeLoach said she’s seen her young patients achieve miracles by simply taking their minds off of whatever is bothering them and doing a handful of the activities detailed in her department’s list, such as exercising, going to see a movie, or making a music playlist.
“Movement is the key to success,” DeLoach said. “It changes your focus on what you’re focused on to something new.”
Mental health resources in the Highland Lakes
Bluebonnet Trails Community Services
4606 Innovation Loop in Marble Falls
Information at 844-309-6385; crisis line at 800-841-1255
Provides community services in relation to autism, behavioral health, crises, early childhood intervention, intellectual developmental disabilities, peer support, and substance abuse. Counseling services specialize in psychotherapy for women, children, and families. Accepts Medicaid.
Highland Lakes Family Crisis Center
Services include free counseling for survivors of family violence, dating violence, stalking, and sexual assault.
Hill Country Children’s Advocacy Center
1001 N. Hill St. in Burnet
Includes free crisis intervention, family support, and individual therapy for child victims, siblings, and non-offending caregivers. A free service, the center utilizes a holistic approach to treatment to assist in healing and restoring a child’s sense of self.
3340 Texas 71 in Horseshoe Bay
Offers free counseling services for children ages 2-18. Therapists have advanced, specialized training in the treatment of trauma as well as other mental health disorders and concerns.