5 Tips for El Paso Parents to Enhance Their Children’s Mental Well-being

A student from a local high school, along with her mother and mental health professionals from Emergence Health Network, came together for a roundtable discussion hosted by El Paso Matters. The event took place at the El Paso Community College Administrative Services Center and was attended by over 50 people. It concluded with an interactive question-and-answer session with the audience. This roundtable is part of a series of community-focused events organized by El Paso Matters.

Alice Cruz, a senior at Austin High School, opened up about her own experience, sharing that she sought help for her mental illness when she was 16 years old. Through a combination of therapy, psychology, and psychiatry, she was able to make significant progress in her journey towards recovery.

“Dealing with mental illness is similar to any other illness. It requires medication or therapy for recovery,” Cruz explained.

In a survey conducted across multiple high schools in three El Paso-area school districts, students expressed a desire to learn coping mechanisms for anxiety. Students also emphasized the need for strategies to improve self-esteem.

Here are five key takeaways from the conference:

Austin High School therapist Julie Tirrell speaks on mental health in adolescents during a forum sponsored by El Paso Matters, Emergent Health Network, and Socorro ISD. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Recognizing Signs of Mental Health Struggles in Children

Gicela Lopez noticed changes in her daughter Alice Cruz’s behavior, such as increased sleep and crying, isolation, and loss of interest in activities. Although Cruz initially reassured her mother, it became evident that something was seriously wrong when Lopez discovered that Cruz was engaging in self-harm.

“I realized that something wasn’t right because I love eating, but I had lost all interest in food. I would just throw it aside,” Cruz confessed.

Cruz also shared that, even though her grades were not affected, she stopped communicating with her teachers and friends during that time.

To identify these changes in their children’s lives, parents need to have consistent conversations and develop a deep understanding of their child’s behavior, according to Krista Wingate, chief of child and adolescent services at Emergence Health Network. These conversations lay the foundation for addressing difficult topics later on.

Building Trust and Open Communication

Wingate emphasized the importance for parents and caregivers to realize that mental illness is not a result of anything they did or didn’t do directly.

Before discussing mental health issues with their child, parents should ensure they are in the right frame of mind. It’s crucial to avoid having these conversations when feeling burnt out, as this can hinder effective communication and attentiveness towards the child, Wingate advised.

Wingate recommended the “LUV” approach – listen with intention, understand and empathize with the child’s feelings, and validate their emotions. She emphasized the significance of approaching such conversations with an open mind and presence, rather than anger.

Lopez shared that she made it clear to her daughter that they would go through the mental health journey together. Cruz added that establishing trust was essential since not all children may initially feel comfortable opening up. Trust and a solid relationship provide the foundation for having difficult conversations, stated Julie Tirrell, a therapist at Austin High School.

Tirrell added that it’s crucial to show respect for your child’s personal story and experiences.

Instead of demanding information from the therapist about your child’s sessions, which may make the child uncomfortable, Wingate suggested starting by asking your teenager what topics they discuss in therapy. Parents can also request permission to be present during the initial 15 minutes of therapy or have a collaborative conversation about what subjects should be addressed during the next family session.

Addressing the Impact of Social Media

Cruz acknowledged that social media had a complicated effect on her mental health, as she would often compare her own struggles to others’ seemingly happy lives. She revealed that scrolling through posts while feeling sad only exacerbated her negative emotions.

El Paso Matters invited a therapist, a high school student, and a parent to speak at a mental health forum at El Paso Community College. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Tirrell highlighted the problematic aspects of social media for young minds. She emphasized the need for teenagers to understand that people only post selectively, often displaying an edited version of their lives. Teens should be made aware that appearances on social media may not reflect reality.

Wingate expressed the need to set boundaries on internet usage, such as using Wi-Fi-blocking apps to limit screen time. Additionally, parents can prevent their children from sleeping with their devices, reducing the temptation to engage in late-night scrolling. It is crucial to have open conversations with your child about the reasons behind these limitations.

Accessing Low-cost or Free Mental Health Services in El Paso

Tirrell stressed the importance of seeking help for mental health issues, comparing it to seeking treatment for any other physical illness.

Two organizations, Emergence Health Network and Project Vida, provide mental health services on campus to students in several school districts throughout El Paso County.

Emergence Health Network offers on-campus therapy, case management, and informal youth mentorship in more than 10 schools in the area. Their services include a combination of therapy, case management, and informal youth mentorship.

Project Vida, a nonprofit organization, offers on-campus mental health services in over 21 schools across El Paso and Hudspeth counties. Each mental health team at Project Vida consists of a licensed professional counselor or licensed clinical social worker, who rotate between two campuses. Availability for services tends to fill up within the first three months of the school year, although new students can be accommodated if previous clients complete their treatment plans before the end of the year.

In addition, the Ysleta Independent School District offers free mental health or substance abuse treatment through Care Solace. This program connects students, staff, and their families to off-campus providers.

The Borderland Rainbow Center provides individual therapy, group therapy, and peer support groups specifically for LGBTQ youth and adults. They offer individual therapy services on a sliding scale based on income.

NAMI El Paso offers educational and support programs in both English and Spanish for parents and caregivers of children and adolescents with mental health conditions.

Alternative Services to Therapy

Although there is a shortage of counselors and therapists in the area, Krista Wingate mentioned that there are other valuable services that can benefit individuals in different ways. For example, Emergence Health Network offers caseworker services. Caseworkers, who hold degrees in psychology, provide psychological education for both parents and children. Social workers can also offer assistance in learning coping strategies and preparing for addressing mental health issues before proceeding to therapy.

Disclosure: Emergence Health Network, El Paso Community College, and the Socorro Independent School District have partnered with El Paso Matters to sponsor the mental health forum. The sponsors are not involved with the editorial content of El Paso Matters, which maintains editorial independence. Learn more about the newsroom’s policy on editorial independencehere.

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