Governor Roy Cooper has proclaimed May 2-8, 2021 as Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week and May 7, 2021 as Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, 1 in 5 of North Carolina’s 2.2 million children lives with a mental health condition. Evidence shows children struggling with their mental health, and their families, benefit greatly from access to timely services, support, and crisis response systems.

For decades, Atrium Health Levine Children’s physicians have partnered with Teen Health Connection, a Charlotte-based medical practice, to provide comprehensive adolescent medical and mental healthcare. In observance of Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, Atrium Health Foundation interviewed Kendra Edwards, MSW, LCSW to shine a light on adolescent behavioral health.

Kendra is a psychotherapist at Teen Health Connection who works with adolescents and young adults, ages 11 to 25, from various backgrounds. In her role, she provides outpatient mental health services to adolescents who have experienced trauma, those who are navigating challenges regarding their gender identity, and those who experience an array of other mental health symptoms, including anxiety and depression.

“Mental health is a term used to describe our psychological, social, and emotional well-being,” shared Kendra. “Mental health is important to overall health. Taking care of your mental health is important for people of all ages. However, this is especially true for adolescents to ensure that they reach their developmental milestones, build emotion regulation skills, social skills, and complex problem-solving abilities. Often, mental health challenges for adolescents can look like disruptive behavior, excessive worry, or difficulties with functioning at home and/or school. Mental health is a spectrum and adolescents differ in how they process their experiences. Connecting adolescents to treatment at the first sign of a mental health disorder is important for ensuring that they can develop the skills needed to reduce mental health symptoms in young adulthood.”

The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on many people’s mental health. Adolescents, who rely on interaction with others for healthy brain development, have been most severely affected. Over the past year, Kendra and her team have seen an increase in depression and anxiety-related symptoms because of the pandemic. Social isolation and virtual learning have been major challenges for the children Kendra works with. While there are a variety of steps parents can take at home to help their children develop healthy behaviors and skills, it is also important to recognize when a child may need additional support from a behavioral healthcare provider.

Through philanthropy, Atrium Health is transforming behavioral health care for children, adolescents, and adults. Atrium Health has designed an integrated system that connects inpatient, outpatient, primary care, school-based, and crisis treatment programs, making it the most comprehensive behavioral health care provider in the region. In observance of Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, consider giving the gift of hope in support of children’s mental health by supporting the Carolinas Behavioral Health Advancement Fund.