Pediatric HealthSource: Mental Health Awareness

Nancy Cunningham

Q: With so much news out there about kids’ mental health, how can I be an advocate for breaking mental health stigma in my own home and community?

A: Childhood mental health is a nationwide issue that touches most of us in some way. How to best advocate and help break stigma depends on your time, talents and passions. Every contribution matters.  

Having safe, calm everyday conversations with children about what they are thinking and feeling improves their emotional literacy and sense of trust. It might also encourage them to speak up when they are struggling.

Encouraging and modeling good coping skills is another way to be an advocate. When kids see adults talking appropriately about their emotions and taking time to care for themselves, they will be more likely to do the same. Self-care is vital to good mental health, so teaching kids strategies to use when they are feeling anxious, sad or angry helps set them up for future success.

Tips for Parents

Because kids don’t wear their thoughts on their sleeves, we don’t always know what they might be going through. To be a supportive advocate, a parent can:

  • Show kindness. Kindness helps reduce stress, increases happiness and helps people feel connected. Use words of compassion, and avoid language that may unintentionally diminish a person with a mental illness.
  • Show you care. When you see someone who is upset, offer support. If you are worried about their safety, let them know that and help them find the resources they need.
  • Advocate for services. Encourage your school to utilize evidenced-based prevention programs and school mental health services; support your mental health levy; advocate in your work place.
  • Get involved. Volunteer in your school or organizations that provide services that promotes child well-being and safety. Get your family involved as well.
  • Stay educated. You don’t need to be a mental health expert to be helpful, but do learn basic facts from reputable sources. Mental health is a hot topic, but look to .edu and .org sites as reputable sources of information. 
  • Spread the word about mental health. Talk with your family, friends, co-workers or other community members in ways that will resonate with their interests and needs.   
  • Reinforce the connection between mental and physical health. Talk about mental health as one part of a person’s overall health. Make sure you are talking to your pediatrician about your child’s mental health so they can best address your child’s overall health.  
  • Know the resources. Whether for you, your child, friend or others in the community, know where to get help locally. If someone needs immediate assistance, go to a local emergency room, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. If you believe an overdose has occurred, call the national Poison Control Center help hotline at 800-222-1222.

For more information about children’s mental health and to help break the silence and stigma around mental illness, visit

Nancy Cunningham, PsyD, is a psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.