Bethany Pierce is a mother of four in Galion, Ohio, and long-time advocate for mental health counseling for her children. Knowing that parents struggle to help their kids with mental health concerns, she wanted to share her perspective on this important topic.
Young people face so many issues and challenges while they’re growing up, and many of them can benefit from talking to a mental health professional. How would you describe this dynamic from your perspective as a mother who’s proactively sought out these services for your children?
Life is hard enough as adults to navigate and process! Growing through childhood into an independent, functioning, contributing member of society is a huge undertaking, and kids need help to learn skills to function through all the difficulties and challenges they are dealing with in their lives. A counselor is someone who is there just for them, who gives them their full attention, and who is equipped with strategies to help navigate areas that we as parents struggle with. Also, I believe we as parents need to talk about emotions in a positive way – we have them for a reason! If we normalize talking about how we are feeling, about how we struggle in our own lives and how needing help isn’t a bad thing, we can help change the next generation’s attitude toward mental health.
What are some of the reasons you believe parents are hesitant to seek out counseling services for their children?
Honestly, there are so many reasons. I’ll mention 2 that have been reasons in my own family. First of all, parents have to know there is a concern, and it’s hard to know! We are all so busy, we are all running in different directions, and don’t get to spend much quality time with each other. It takes purposeful effort as parents today to get to know our kids. I spend a lot of time chauffeuring my kids around to all their practices, games, and school programs, so I use that time to “force” them to talk to me. Many times, they don’t say much, but it’s my chance to try to find out about their day – their goals, their worries, and their accomplishments.
Second, we have a fear as parents that we are failing if our kids are struggling. Maybe the school staff, or the doctor, or the other parents will judge us, maybe they will question whether we are really taking care of our kids. Social media plays a huge role in this because we see the highlights of everyone else’s lives and think no one else is struggling. We need to remember the truth that everyone struggles, everyone has difficult times, and no one is immune to mental health concerns.
Finally, what advice would you give to parents who might feel a stigma attached to counseling?
Unfortunately, we do still have a lot of stigma attached to counseling and other mental health services. Giving your children access to mental health services means that you are doing something right as a parent! You are choosing to make mental health as important as physical health. You are giving them the tools they need to successfully function in their lives now and as adults. You are validating their feelings because you are treating them as important and real.
My advice is to become your child’s advocate. Treat mental health the same as you do other aspects of their lives. You make sure they are up to date with doctor’s appointments, and keep up with their schoolwork, and practice instruments or sports – add mental health to this list. At your next visit, ask your doctor what kind of services they offer, and how you can access them if you see a need. So many of us are dealing with mental health struggles and concerns in our families; please know you are not alone!
If you have concerns, discuss these with your pediatrician or primary care provider.