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Advocating for Children: Mental Health Awareness Month

Jennifer Fieten, MA, CCLS
Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, Chicago, IL
Concordia University, Ann Arbor, MI
Willow House, Chicago, IL

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. May is a time to raise awareness of, and to reduce the stigma surrounding, behavioral health issues, as well as to highlight the ways of how mental illness can affect all of us – patients, healthcare providers, and families.  According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) (2023), “1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year.” On Our Sleeves (2023) has identified that, “1 in 5 children has a significantly impairing mental health disorder; yet less than half get the treatment they need” (On Our Sleeves, 2023).

As child life professionals, we can not only provide support for children and adolescents affected by mental illness, but to also bring awareness to the needs of these patients and families, and to advocate for resources. Websites like Mental Health America, National Alliance on Mental Illness, On Our Sleeves, the National Institute of Mental Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Association for Children’s Mental Health, and the American Academy of Pediatrics provide resources that can be shared with patients and families.

There are also opportunities for our professional community to celebrate this month and to further advocate for our patients and families. Child life specialists can be a voice for children’s mental health by:

-By being a mentor and role model, acknowledging and showing interest in the children around us.

-Helping to make our environments safe, looking out for others.

-Acknowledging and showing interest in the children around us.

-Supporting families and children by promoting policies at our work and in the community that are child and family focused.

-And, by continuing our work as advocates for children!

We can also encourage caregivers to talk to their child’s healthcare professional if they have concerns about the way their child behaves at home, in school, or with friends. Encourage children and teens to express how they are feeling.  If they are angry, worried or sad, encourage them not to be afraid to talk about their feelings and to reach out to a trusted friend or adult. Early diagnosis is pivotal. Early identification is important so that children can get the help they need. Work with families and other members of the interdisciplinary healthcare team if you have concerns about the mental health of a child in your healthcare setting.


American Academy of Pediatrics, (2023, May).

Association for Children’s Mental Health, (2023, May).’s-mental-health-101/additional-childrens-mental-health-resources/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2023, May).

Mental Health America, (2023, May).

National Alliance on Mental Illness, (2023, May).

National Institute of Mental Health , (2023, May).

On Our Sleeves, (2023, May).

On Our Sleeves, (2023, May).

Child Life Profession