Kids' Mental Health and Seeking Therapy

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Mental health is relevant to everyone, and in this episode we discuss how important of a topic this is in raising the next generation. There's no question that kids are facing many challenges, especially living in an increasingly digital age. How can parents monitor their child's mental health, and when should there be a move towards seeking therapy? The Regional Director of Children's Services at New Vista, Randa Bush, gives her professional perspective on mental health in kiddos today, and discusses steps parents can take to care for their child's mental health.


Kevin Wallace 0:11 Hello, and welcome to The Good Ahead Podcast where we host conversations in the areas of mental health, substance use and intellectual and developmental disabilities. I'm your host, Kevin Wallace with New Vista. Today you'll hear from Randall Bush, Regional Director of Children's Services at New Vista, discussing kids mental health, helping parents understand the signs of depression in their child and knowing when a good time is to seek therapy. With all the kids are facing today, especially recently with the online schooling and the rise of the digital age, it's critical to know how to care for the next generation. And I think you'll find this episode extremely informative. So we're glad to have you and enjoy the conversation. Well, welcome in. Today, we have with us Randa Bush, and she is the Regional Director of Children's Services at New Vista. So welcome, Randa.

Randa Bush 1:12 Thank you for having me.

Kevin Wallace 1:13 Thanks for being here. Well, today, we're going to be talking a little bit about kids mental health, and how they can be seeking therapy. And this is going to be targeted more towards the parents kids will find this pretty informative as well. But today is going to be very much so for the parents. So first, let's start off what do you do at New Vista? You're the regional director of children's services in New Vista. So what does that entail? What does your job look like here? Yeah, so I oversee a lot of our specialty grant programs that serve children and families. And I am a Licensed Clinical Therapist, and I provide supervision to clinicians who are on the process of getting fully licensed, Well what a what a time to to be serving in the area of kids mental health with the pandemic, and kids, obviously, not being able to go to school in person. And I'm interested to hear your perspective on all that, too. But before we get into all of that, let's just talk about the reality of mental health in kids. Can kids experience mental health issues? Or is that just something that adults face today?

Randa Bush 2:25 Short answer, yes. Kids can experience mental health issues. Often, we start to see signs early in childhood. And so

Kevin Wallace 2:33 How early?

Randa Bush 2:35 As early as, if it's trauma related, it can be as early as the first five years. You can start to see some disruptive behavior or signs of, of something has happened. But even from five and up, we can really start to see symptoms, indicators of other things such as anxiety, depression, attention deficit, those are things you can start to pick up on patterns and symptoms early on.

Kevin Wallace 3:01 Yeah. Yeah. 'Cuz you really think more about, well, this is something adults face because they have so many more responsibilities, so many more stressors. But obviously, you're saying kids can absolutely have mental health issues. And so yeah, what are what are some of the common mental health issues that you that you are seeing in kids? And maybe that's been changing over the years of the time that you've been in this field? But what are some of the common mental health issues that you see that kids are facing today?

Unknown Speaker 3:36 Yeah, I would say most prevalent, what we see and treat often are signs and symptoms of ADHD. That often gets picked up early as they start school. And they're in a classroom setting, and they start having challenges with focus or attention and completing tasks. And we also see symptoms of anxiety. Maybe it's anxiety around separation from their caregiver, going to school, anxiety around certain obsessions, or things they get fixated on. We also see symptoms of depression, that's pretty prevalent. You can just see children who struggle with low mood, low motivation, negative thoughts towards themselves. And I'd say something that's picking up that or we're just identifying it better, I think, is indicators of trauma in childhood. So we're starting to see that as a very prevalent factor in some of these behaviors we see. So in the past, maybe we thought it was attention deficit or anxiety, but really, it was rooted in trauma. So they went through a traumatic event and their body response looks very similar.

Kevin Wallace 4:39 And so we've talked about trauma being a pretty common link to some of these mental health issues. Are there any other prevalent links to these different mental health issues that you see in kids? Other than Yeah, life, environmental stressors, those are very common. Yeah. There's been a lot of disruption in the home life. So removal from a home placement and new home that can be pretty disruptive. And then also, some are genetic factors, just ancient genetic trends and families that are more prevalent or prone to anxiety or depression. Yeah, in the last episode, I was talking to Darcy. And she mentioned, that was a really big factor too, that that genetically, you could these things can be passed down. And it's more of like a chemical thing going on biologically in your body. And as opposed to maybe something that's happening externally. This is something that's happening internally. So yeah, that is a super interesting. Well, let's talk, too, about, there's this rise of the digital age that we're in. Some of the, most of these kids now, well, all these kids now are being raised up in a world where technology is at your fingertips all the time. And there's a screen that they're probably looking at for hours on end a day. So how has How has the digital age and just being so attached to technology affected kids mental health today?

Unknown Speaker 6:20 It's definitely had its impact. And there's research now coming out to support that and evidence to show that it's changed the trends of a generation. Yeah, you know, so Jean Twenge, she's a researcher, and she has put out some really interesting information on the impacts of when the ACT bomb was released. So in 2007, when that was released, we started to see over the course of years following that trends that changed the trajectory on how how teenagers were living life. Yeah, which was very interesting. So one of the trends that we saw was a spike in increase in depression, suicidal thoughts, feeling alone, or feeling left out. Yeah. And we also saw decreases in some interesting things, too, such as using alcohol or substances in teen pregnancy. And so she surveyed a large number of teenagers, and interviewed them to try to see what was going on. And some of that, those trends, and what she found was that more teens were staying home, in their bedroom, on their, on their phone. Yeah. And engaging with their peers through social media, right, rather than going out and doing some of these other behaviors that have been elevated in risk in the past. So it definitely has changed trends and what we're seeing, I think, for this generation that has been kind of brought up with the iPhone, yeah. We're gonna see even more research that comes later on, on how that's impacted their interpersonal life and relationships. And just from working with teens, I've seen, you know, they don't know life without a filter. You know, they don't know what they are they're anxious about direct social engagement face to face where you don't have time to Yeah, to text or to draft up what you're going to say. Yeah, so there's anxiety. Just a lot of social anxiety.

Kevin Wallace 8:28 Yeah. And performance anxiety Yeah, we've seen increase in social anxiety, increase in anxiety, anxiety is kind of, you know, very elevated. And, and also that depression. So, you know, in the past when I was a teenager, if I didn't get invited to something, I may never have known about it. Yeah. But now, you don't get invited to something. And then your friends post, yeah, that they're all together. If it's worth posting, you'll see it, and then you'll, you'll have that fear of missing out. Yes. So FOMO is real. It's a real thing. So they see that they're missing out on things, they see that they didn't get invited to something. Or they may see the filter of another person and think, Oh, my life is terrible. Yeah, the comparison. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 9:14 Yeah, so we've definitely seen the impacts. We've seen more withdrawal, more isolation, more engagement through a screen hearing, you know, teens talk about going to hang out with a friend at their house and they're both sitting on their phones in their time together is even a different type of Yeah, hanging out than what we would have seen 10, 15 years ago. Yeah.

Kevin Wallace 9:39 Yeah, it's almost like the glue to relationships now in kids, like if you don't, if you don't have a phone or TV screen or whatever it is in front of you, it's it's almost hard to do relationships and friendships that way for kids now. Whereas in Me being a 90s baby, I was kind of in this hybrid of I had my upbringing, far less technologically reliant. But

Unknown Speaker 10:11 We had our desktop.

Kevin Wallace 10:12 Yeah, yeah we had a desktop

Randa Bush 10:13 We had a dial up.

Kevin Wallace 10:14 Exactly. Yes.

Randa Bush 10:15 Internet, it wasn't quite the same.

Kevin Wallace 10:18 And I remember when my dad came home with the first cell phone that he ever got. And I was blown away, like, what is this. And so, it's crazy to see how everything has been advancing. And obviously, there have been some great outcomes to that, but also some negative side effects as well. But especially just thinking about the pandemic that we're hopefully coming out of soon. That's been a great technology has been amazing to have, for kids to get to still be in a social environment for for school, they get to be around their peers, at least through a webcam. And, and, but that's, that's definitely had some really negative side effects, too, I'm sure. So let's talk about that a little bit. What's What have you been seeing, in this pandemic, how kids mental health has been affected by the pandemic?

Unknown Speaker 11:18 You know, I think we, we've seen some of that depression and anxiety elevated, of course. It's a very, it's been a very uncertain year, with lots of change, and hard to find a rhythm and a routine. And that's really important for kids and teenagers is to have some kind of structure to their day and and what they're doing. And also for teens, when when you remove the school setting in you remove the time with their peers, and you remove their sports that they're involved in, or their activities that they do, so much of what they are kind of identifying with and experiencing in their day to day life has just been taken. And I think a lot of teens struggle with what do I do, who am I now without my sport, or that my friends, and it's just where they are, developmentally, they're in that stage where they're trying to figure out who they are some I think in a positive light, were able to be alone with themselves and kind of figure out who they were in a positive way, apart from maybe peer pressure, peer influence, but then you also have those who really felt disconnected and felt isolated, as if no one knew them or cared about them or what they were doing. I feel like teens in general have just been tired. Yeah, they're like, exhausted from learning a new way of learning, doing virtual, you know, learning through school, trying to find their own rhythms at home has been, I think, a challenge getting on a some kind of sleep schedule that makes sense for for their life right now. And all of those things impact their mental health. And so, you know, the trends that I'm saying are just elevated, you know, from what we would normally see. Yeah. And just feeling more alone, feeling more isolated, maybe feeling more frustrated. And so that tipping point is right there doesn't take much to kind of push them over the edge and feel like they can't cope or deal with something that's hard in their life. Yeah.

Kevin Wallace 13:25 And if you're if your kiddo listening right now, you are a rock star for coming through the end of this. And I can't imagine being a kid right now. I'm sure you can't either. It's just all the things that they're having to go through it especially just with online school. And we're also very thankful for teachers and for people like you, Randa, for getting to walk through this with with kids and help them live the best life that they possibly can in some of the most trying times that they may have faced in their life.

Unknown Speaker 14:00 Yeah and we've seen resiliency, yeah, our kids have been very resilient, absolutely to, to adapt and fluctuate and change to the new normal that we've been in. I've been very impressed with seeing just how resilient we can be when we are under pressure or under a hard time. And I've even seen teens use that time creatively. I had there was one junior in high school that I knew that she she took that time and in healthy at home and she could so so she made face mask She made like over 200 face masks and just started giving them out. So you know there is there are those positive highlights where you you know, everyone put in a pressure cooker we all are going to have different responses. So some may thrive and find new ways of being creative and adapting and then others may really struggle so we've seen a mixture of both

Kevin Wallace 15:02 This break in the conversation is a reminder that The Good Ahead Podcast is brought to you by New Vista. New Vista is a community mental health center caring for our Central Kentucky communities in the areas of mental health, substance use, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. Now, if you want to know more about New Vista's services, please call our 24-Hour Helpline at 1.800.928.8000. Or you can visit our website at Okay, let's get back to the conversation with Randa Bush. Let's talk about, for the parents, how they can be monitoring their child's mental health and when they should know to seek therapy for their kid. So how can they be monitoring this in their child? Well, I like to say for just a baseline, it's okay if they're not okay. Yeah, it's okay. For struggling. There's some level of normalcy in that right. I feel like we'll probably be saying that quite a bit in this yes, it's okay to not be okay.

Unknown Speaker 16:07 Yeah. So first just recognizing It's okay. If there's a struggle, it's okay. If you if you are seeing that your child or teenager is struggling, I think recognizing that is the first part. And so coming around and being a support, being available. I often say you know, not leaving our kids or teens to their own devices. And that's figuratively and literally, yeah, don't just assume that if they're in their room, they're good. Yeah. Or don't just assume that if they've been on an iPad or a phone for a couple hours, that they're, they're fine. You know, so we have to monitor those spaces in which they could be impacted in in ways that are not healthy for them, you know, limiting their exposure to news or negative news. Yeah, that can impact Yeah, like, there's just so much around us right now that can be screaming at us.

Kevin Wallace 16:59 Yes. Yeah. So much that they're being exposed to.

Unknown Speaker 17:02 Yeah they see it too. They, they see us, they read the adults around them in the room, especially kiddos, they're always listening. So being mindful of, you know, how we're monitoring what we intake and how healthy it is for us, but also be mindful for them. And then you know, helping them find rhythm and routine, giving them some balance and recognizing when they may need to get out of the house, made them a need to go play or go to a park or just go to Sonic, I mean, that getting them out if you feel like they've been in too long. And in caring enough to ask those questions, even if your teenager is resistant, or pulls away, or you feel like they don't want to open up to you just continuingly to to keep that conversation open with them asking questions, and paying attention.

Kevin Wallace 17:52 Yeah, how do you, how do you even talk to a kid that might be hard or hard to talk with about some difficult issues? Like, it's hard to go there with a kid sometimes, because maybe they feel too ashamed to talk about it? Maybe they feel like they shouldn't be experiencing the things that they're experiencing? And they don't even know how to talk about it. So are there any practical things that you can give a parent that maybe it's a resource? Maybe it's, you know, here are some things that you've seen work? And? I don't know. Talk about that a little bit?

Unknown Speaker 18:33 Yeah. So just from personal experience, I have a five year old and when the pandemic was kind of in full force at the beginning, I, you know, I saw the impact it was having on her home, she was more emotional, she was more, you know, prone to like, a breakdown, you know, and noticing that she was dealing with that. I started ordering books to read to her around just feeling identification, right? There's a book called The color monster, it talks about feelings. And that was a great icebreaker for us to talk about what these feelings are. And I'll never forget one day she came up to me during the pandemic and she turned to the page of the read angry monster. And she said, I'm so mad now. And just giving them language to identify what what they're feeling and what's going on with them. So there's a lot of great books, children's books, yeah, that talk about that. There was a whole series that we went through of other monsters that that had things that they were dealing with, like loneliness or fear. And we we read through those as well. So for kids, I think you can find a resource through reading or storytelling, and they can really engage with that. For teens, I think it's just having conversation starters are creating opportunity for conversation. So one idea that I've given to families is if you have a team who's less direct and they get uncomfortable if you're wanting to talk to them face to face, like having a notepad, like on your fridge or on your counter in a notepad check in where you can leave notes to each other. Like just hey, love you. Yeah, have a great day. That's the beginning. That's a starting point where you can ride back and forth, I'm sure families now text, like that's probably a common way that that teens talk to their parents. But it's, it's again, keeping that conversation open and being available to listen. And I think that's something that parents have to be reminded of is, if teens think that we will listen, they will talk. But sometimes, I think they've been convinced that we're just going to talk at them, and listen to them. So we've got a model that we really want to hear what they think and what they have to say about something, and help them explore critical thinking, help them explore what that looks like, and processing all of this with them. Yeah, I think that's a really healthy way. We also in at New Vista in our prevention department, one of the things that they've really promoted this past year are these dinner table boxes. And it's called the dinner table project. Yeah. And you can request one of those through our prevention department, they'll mail you the box,. You put it together, and it holds your cell phones, it holds your devices. And you can sit that box in the middle of your dining table. And it has conversation starters around the box cool of things to talk about. And there's also like a QR code that goes to a website with even more questions and activities. But the whole idea, the whole point there is if we come around the table, as a family, we have some conversation, that this will hopefully reduce the risk of our teens, you know, struggling with suicide or struggling with substance use or dealing with some of these things alone, that are hard and heavy to deal with.

Kevin Wallace 21:55 Yeah, cool, the dinner table project. And that's, that's on the prevention page, and on our website, So you can go to our website homepage, and there's a prevention tab, and you can go on there and look at the different prevention services that we have. But the dinner table project, that is a really cool idea. Well, it's kind of a, one of the last questions that I have is how do you seek therapy for a kid? Like what are the what are the practical things that maybe New Vista offers that a parent sees that a kid is their kid is experiencing mental health issues? How what are the steps that they can take to have them talk to a licensed therapist?

Unknown Speaker 22:41 Yeah, so there's a couple of routes. The easiest way, oftentimes is just calling that 1.800 number, our Helpline, just to get in and talk to someone. But often we partner a lot with schools in our community as well. So a kid or a teenager may get linked up with a counselor that then connects them with us. So we get referrals from the school, and we are able to partner with them in that way, which is really helpful. Because that's been another challenge in the pandemic when kids haven't been in the schools and the schools may often identify the need, yeah, you know, they are often some of the first to refer and connect them to services. So that's really important. And then once once you kind of get in with New Vista through our Helpline, we have an array of services that serve children and families. So we have an early childhood mental health specialist, she works with birth to five. So she really focuses in on that population. She helps parents through those first five years when they are maybe having challenges. Maybe the mom is dealing with some postpartum issues, or maybe they're they're adopting, and they have a child that is new to their home, and they're trying to learn and see, figure out how to work with some of the behaviors that they're saying are dealing with. So she's a great resource for that that population. We also have high fidelity wraparound services. And that's a great service that we offer here for families who really can benefit from someone coming on their team, and helping them find their voice and identify what they need for their family. So those services are really unique. And we've seen a lot of positive benefit from families working with with that process. And then we have an iHOPE program, yeah, that works with teens who may be experiencing a first episode of psychosis. And that can be a really scary time for a family. If they start to see or notice that they're their teenager or young person could be college age is starting to experience some distress around seeing or hearing unusual things or having ideas that are concerning or distressing. So that program has been really impactful to see families reach out and get connected to I have where we have a thing therapist and some psychiatrists that work with them. And we have access to a lot of additional services like Case Management, Employment Services, if they're interested in that. So we have a lot of, for variety in what we can offer. And I think that's what makes New Vista unique is that they can they can come initially through that Helpline and that can open the door to a lot of opportunity to help meet the need, yeah, that they may have

Kevin Wallace 25:29 Excellent. Well, as a final note, what would you say to a parent that's listening to this and might already be journeying through this with their their kid? Or maybe it's just starting this journey of seeing mental health issues and their child and wanting to know what to do? What would you say to them to encourage them through this time? Because it's not easy to be doing this and seeing this in your kid that you love. So what would you what would you say to that parent?

Unknown Speaker 26:03 Yeah, I think just to be accepting and open to help to recognize that our mental health is equally as important as our physical health. And I do think as a society, we're moving closer to normalizing this, this need to take care of our health. Absolutely. And so I think one of the positives out of this pandemic, could be normalizing this and creating more prevention types of services that make it normal and okay for a child to be checked out for their mental health. Yeah, because we can identify those signs early and treat them early. So that thing that would be the first thing I would tell parents is just recognizing that, that it's important is a priority to pay attention to. And in not being ashamed of having to seek out help, recognizing that by helping our kids through these challenges early on, we're creating new habits, new behaviors, new mindsets, that can help them be successful in life. Right. And the other piece, I would add there is that for parents to not be afraid to seek help. Yeah. Because oftentimes, in family systems, our kids are impacted as a trickle down effect from the parent.

Kevin Wallace 27:22 Yeah, from the the undealt with things that might be going on in the parent.

Unknown Speaker 27:27 Yeah. So even in this pandemic alone, when you have parents losing jobs, losing housing, security, and all these things that they provide for their family, and the stress that that can bring, that can impact the kids just because they they feed off of us, they recognize our stress, and we pass our stress around and family systems. So recognizing that we have to as parents, take care of ourselves and be at our best, so that we can be the best for our kids and model that too. So by a parent reaching out for help, they're saying it's okay to seek help. I'm going to seek help first. And if you need help, we'll seek help for you too. But it's really coming around and normalizing this is something that's important and needed and should be as routine as a checkup. Yeah. I think everyone could benefit from just, you know, a screening and evaluation, just to check in. We've all been through a hard thing this past year. And if, if we're unaffected by it, I would be concerned. Yeah. Because we're all human and it impacts us in different ways.

Kevin Wallace 28:38 So it's okay to not be okay. It's okay. It is. And there are resources out there to help you get through this. So, well Randa, thank you so much for being on with us.

Randa Bush 28:49 Thank you for having me, this was fun.

Kevin Wallace 28:59 Thank you for joining us in today's episode. Just a reminder that this podcast is brought to you by New Vista. We assist individuals, children and families in the enhancement of their well being through mental health, substance use, and Intellectual and Developmental Disability Services. We see the good ahead for all individuals in our communities. Again, if you need help, call our 24-Hour Helpline at 1.800.928.8000 or visit our website at We hope you enjoyed today's episode, and we'll see you next time