Back to School: A Time to Focus on Youth Mental Health

It’s already August?! For parents and youth, August means a time to prep for back to school festivities, such as buying supplies, registering for classes, and joining new extracurricular activities. Going back to school after a long summer break can be extremely overwhelming for many students. The idea of having a new schedule, with new subjects and new classmates can seem like a lot all at once.

During this time of intense transition, it is crucial that parents can identify potential signs of mental illness in their children. Research shows that 1 in 5 youth ages 14-24 years-old are living with a serious mental illness. Unfortunately, the average delay between onset of symptoms and intervention is still about 8-10 years.

Over 50% of students living with mental illness dropout of high school. This is often due to the fact that they were not supported with proper treatment and medications when they needed it most. As with any health condition, it’s so important that parents can identify symptoms and behaviors that might often be connected to a mental illness before it gets to this point.

Some warning signs might include:

  • Feeling very sad of withdrawn for more than 2 weeks (e.g. crying regularly, feeling fatigued, feeling unmotivated)
  • Trying to harm or kill oneself or making plans to do so

  • Out-of-control, risk-taking behaviors that can cause harm to self or others

  • Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart, physical discomfort, or fast breathing

  • Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to lose weight; significant weight loss or gain.

  • Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships

  • Substance use

  • Drastic changes in behavior, personality, or sleeping habits

  • Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still that can lead to failure in school

  • Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities like hanging out with friends or going to classes.

If your child is experiencing these symptom, please remember that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Be sure to talk to your pediatrician, get a referral to a mental health specialist, work with your child’s school, connect with other families, and reach out to your local NAMI. Many NAMI affiliates offer a variety of programs that can be helpful to you and your family during this stressful time.

If you would like to bring mental health awareness to a school near you, we recommend that you learn about Raise Your Voice. This is a NAMI Wisconsin club that is dedicated to increasing mental illness awareness, inspiring advocacy, and promoting acceptance. To learn more about how to get involved in this initiative, please click here.

Written by Jamie Gurgul, NAMI Wisconsin's Communications & Events Director