How stressful is a child’s world? The answer might surprise some parent

When Kate McGovern, MD, addresses a child’s physical health, she’s also got her eyes and ears open to their emotional health

McGovern, of Anderson Hills Pediatrics, says that when she started her practice, she was a little surprised at how prevalent mental health issues were.

She says it’s not only a huge component of her work schedule, but also one of doctors’ biggest challenges. The key, she says, is asking insightful, conversational questions - and listening carefully to kids’ answers.

This is especially true for teens.  

McGovern shares her insights into caring for kids’ emotional health.  

Q. What are the most common sources of kids’ stress and anxieties?

A. For kids that I see in my office, it seems to be schoolwork, disagreements with friends, relationships with significant others and family stressors (health of a family member, money concerns, divorce, etc.).  

Q. Are parents often surprised by kids’ answers and explanations? 

A. Parents are often caught off-guard by the reality of how depressed their child truly is. For example, a break-up may not seem like a big deal to a parent, but to the teenager it defines their whole life in that moment.  

Kids will often divulge stories of suicidal thoughts and feeling sad all the time with their parent having no idea that it was “that bad” because the parent didn’t press them any farther and thought “it’s only a teenage relationship.”

Sometimes we only pick up these types of depression with mental-health screening questions.  

Q. Does social media play a role in creating stresses, such as cyberbullying? 

A. The answer is an overwhelming yes. Whether we like it or not, a social media presence for teens and young adults is now the norm. Without it, kids are seen as “weird” and with it these kids are faced with all of the possible negative aspects such as gossiping and cyberbullying.  

Suddenly there is no place for that quiet kid to get away from a bully after school because online communication with that child can occur at any time. The stress that children face today from maintaining an online presence is very real.

I would say that the largest components affecting issues with friends and classmates is social media.  

Arguments played out on social media take it to a whole new level of stress when everyone can publicly watch it unravel.

Q. What is the role of reassuring kids that they aren’t alone?  

A. It plays a huge role in my narrative to kids. Statistically, 1 in 5 children ages 13-18 have, or will have, a mental illness. I tell kids that I have 1- to 2-hour mental health appointments in my schedule per week and they are always filled, sometimes weeks out.  The need is clearly there because the problem is so widespread.