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Annual back-to-school physical is the perfect time to talk about mental health

Dr. Frederick Kuo

Special to the Village News

When it comes to your child’s overall health, well-child visits are the perfect time to ensure your child’s holistic development is progressing as it should. With back-to-school season ready to begin, now is the perfect time to discuss your child’s physical and mental health with their pediatrician or your family doctor.

What is a well-child visit?

A well-child visit, sometimes referred to as a physical, is an annual appointment in which your child’s physician assesses their growth and development. These check-ups typically consist of:

• Physical examination, including assessing their growth and development

• Routine immunizations to prevent diseases like measles, polio, hepatitis B, chickenpox, whooping cough and other serious diseases.

• Hearing and vision tests

• An opportune time to have your child’s sports physical forms signed and address any sports-related concerns such as prior injuries

• And a mental health screening

When do I schedule a well-child visit?

Don’t wait, schedule the appointment today as your pediatrician’s schedule will fill up fast in August and September.

For younger children, these appointments typically occur right after their birthday, but as they age, they may begin seeing their doctor closer to the start of the school year, as older kids and teenagers may also need to have physical forms in order to participate in sports.

Additionally, receiving routine immunizations helps your child’s immune system build the antibodies to help protect them from contagious diseases such as Influenza, Mumps, Measles and Tetanus. Your child’s doctor will know which immunizations are appropriate for their age, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. You can refer to the full list of child and adolescent vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

Why discuss mental health at your next well-child visit?

Just as children can learn to understand medical problems that affect their bodies – like how asthma can make their lungs tighten and it can be helpful to use an inhaler to help them breathe more easily – parents and doctors can help them understand that mental health concerns are just as important as physical concerns.

Here’s why that’s so important:

There has been a sharp increase in adolescent mental health issues in recent years. It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic was a source of stress for many. According to a 2022 set of data collected by the CDC, more than 37% of high school students reported experiencing poor mental health during the pandemic, with an additional 44% reporting they felt persistently sad or hopeless over the past year.

Many young people don’t receive treatment. Talking about mental health can seem daunting or confusing, especially for kids. For example, Mental Health America reports that about 60% of youth with major depression don’t receive treatment, even in states with higher access to mental health services.

If left untreated, adolescent mental health issues can carry into adulthood. Mental health during adolescence has a greater bearing on one’s adult life than many people realize. CDC data on children’s mental health show that diagnoses of ADHD, anxiety, depression and other mental disorders become increasingly prevalent with age, and behavioral problems are more common among adolescents aged 6-11 than older or younger children.

School is a challenging enough environment as it is, so be sure to talk to your child’s doctor about changes in mood, behavior, academic performance or disposition to better ensure their needs are addressed and their concerns are heard, giving your child the skills to excel both inside and outside the classroom.

Most health insurance plans cover well-child visits. If you have any questions, call the number on your insurance card for more information. To learn more about preventive care for your child or to download a well-child visit checklist, visit UHC.com.

Dr. Frederick Kuo, M.D., is the Chief Medical Officer for UnitedHealthcare of California.

 

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