AURORA — May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and if you’re worried about the mental health of your kids and aren’t sure what to do about it, Children's Hospital Colorado is hosting a free virtual town hall meeting on Thursday May 5th, 2022 at 6 p.m. MST.
Data released from Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation says this virtual town hall meeting comes at a critical time. It was almost one year ago that Children’s Hospital Colorado declared a youth mental health emergency. Now, as day to day life in general is beginning to feel more normal after the pandemic the kids mental health crisis is still on the rise.
- Suicide is still a leading cause of death for Colorado kids, starting at age 10.
- 47% more kids came to Colorado emergency departments due to a mental health crisis in early 2022 than in 2021.
- Self-harm or suicide attempts are among the top reasons that patients seek mental health care in our emergency departments.
Jessica Hawks, PhD, clinical child and adolescent psychologist, and the Clinical Director of Ambulatory Services, Pediatric Mental Health Institute, Children's Hospital Colorado says, "In quarter one of 2021 compared to 2022 our hospitals saw a 47% increase in the number of patients that presented to our emergency departments in psychiatric crises. We haven't seen the peak of this yet and I think we are going to continue to see the fallout of the pandemic for many more months, if not years to come.”
As for suicide remaining the leading cause of death for kids over the age of 10 in Colorado Dr. Hawks says, having consistent open lines of communication on many levels with our children is the key to turning the tide. ”It's such an incredibly important message for parents to hear that it is never going to be harmful to ask your kids how they are doing? It’s not going to plant the idea (of suicide) in their mind to ask them if they are having thoughts of hurting themselves or killing themselves. It's a really important question to ask. Having that open dialogue is the most critical step a parent can take to keep their kids safe and healthy.”
This Thursday’s free virtual town hall meeting is another step Children’s Hospital Colorado is taking to re-branding the way we all think about mental health and mental health treatment.
Dr. Hawks says, “One of the things that I'm hoping we can accomplish through these town hall meetings is helping to reduce the stigma (around mental health) and keep having these conversations as a normal part of the daily conversations we should be having to promote the well-being of our children. We commonly think of negative or hard emotions as a bad thing and we're supposed to get rid of them when In fact, emotions are just information. They are just telling us that something is going on that we need to address. When we feel sad it's not something we need to run away from or get rid of, it means we need to face it and lean into whatever is happening so we can help ourselves feel better.”
What are the big warning signs parents need to watch for to know when you need to talk to your kids about their mental health? While there are warning signs Jessica says parents need to be talking to their kids whether you’re seeing the warning signs or not. “I would encourage all parents to regularly check in with their kids even if they don't have concerns. It's so much better for parents to be proactive and checking in regularly and asking how they are doing. The warning signs that parents should be looking for would be - any major changes in the behavior of their kids. Are they isolating more, do they seem more tearful, are they eating more or less, are they sleeping more or less, or do they just not seem interested in doing the things they normally like to do? Those are all really important warning signs to pay attention to.”
Why is May a perfect time for this free virtual town hall to be held? Dr. Hawks says, “One of the things that we consistently see every year is that May is a particularly stressful and difficult time for kids. In part because of all of the end-of-the-year stressors, the tests and graduations and also anxiety about what the summer may look like and a difficulty with that transition. Our panel is going to be talking about what those things might look like for kids and what parents can do to help support their kids with these transitions. There's also going to be an opportunity for questions and answers. Parents who sign up through Eventbrite will be able to ask their questions through the chat function, and our mental health experts will be able to answer those.”
There is limited sign up availability through the Eventbrite sign up page. You can register (HERE) and the event can be watched by anyone on the Children's Hospital Colorado Facebook page (HERE) where it will be streamed live at 6 p.m. MST.