Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.
Over the course of your life, if you experience mental health problems, your thinking, mood, and behavior could be affected. Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:
- Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry
- Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse
- Family history of mental health problems
Mental health problems are common and help is available.
A traumatic event is a frightening, dangerous, or violent event that poses a threat to a child’s life or bodily integrity.
Traumatic experiences can initiate strong emotions and physical reactions that can persist long after the event. Children may feel terror, helplessness, or fear, as well as physiological reactions such as heart pounding, vomiting, or loss of bowel or bladder control. Children who experience an inability to protect themselves or who lacked protection from others to avoid the consequences of the traumatic experience may also feel overwhelmed by the intensity of physical and emotional responses.
Even though adults work hard to keep children safe, dangerous events still happen. This danger can come from outside of the family (such as a natural disaster, car accident, school shooting, or community violence) or from within the family, such as domestic violence, physical or sexual abuse, or the unexpected death of a loved one.
What Experiences Might Be Traumatic?
- Physical, sexual, or psychological abuse and neglect (including trafficking)
- Natural and technological disasters or terrorism
- Family or community violence
- Sudden or violent loss of a loved one
- Substance use disorder (personal or familial)
- Refugee and war experiences (including torture)
- Serious accidents or life-threatening illness
- Military family-related stressors (e.g., deployment, parental loss or injury)
- When children have been in situations where they feared for their lives, believed that they would be injured, witnessed violence, or tragically lost a loved one, they may show signs of child traumatic stress.
Problematic sexual behaviors (PSB) are deviations from normative or typical sexual behavior. They are child-initiated behaviors involving sexual body parts (i.e., genitals, anus, buttocks, or breasts) and are developmentally inappropriate and/or potentially harmful to themselves or others.
Problematic sexual behaviors may involve behaviors that are entirely self-focused such as excessive masturbation, or behaviors that involved other children, such as touching other children’s genitals or sexual intercourse. Normative sexual behaviors may become problematic when the behaviors increase in frequency and do not respond to parenting strategies.
Although the terms counseling and therapy are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between psychotherapy and psychological counseling.
Counseling focuses of specific issues and is designed to help a person address a particular problem, such as addiction or stress management. The focus may be on problem solving or avoiding problem areas. Counseling is also usually more short-term than therapy.
Psychotherapy is more long-term than counseling and focuses on a broader range of issues. The underlying principle is that a person’s patterns of thinking and behavior affect the way that person interacts with the world. Depending on the specific type of psychotherapy that is being used, the goal is to help people feel better equipped to manage stresses, understand patterns in their behavior that may interfere with reaching personal goals, have more satisfying relationships, and better regulate their thinking and emotional responses to stressful situations. If someone has a form of mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or an anxiety disorder, psychotherapy also addresses ways