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It’s Okay to Not Feel Okay

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
A teacher? Basketball player? A scientist? When you think about it, this is a difficult question to ask a child.
Written by Elias Joshua Salama, with Julie Belkowitz, M.D., M.P.H., and Oneith Cadiz, M.D.


At least there are no wrong answers, right? Strangely enough, my mom would disagree. Everyone who knows my family knows that we have a unique answer to this seemingly simple question. Although my parents always said we could be anything we wanted to be when we grew up, there was still only one correct answer to this question. “When I grow up, I want to be happy.”

Sadly, being happy is much easier said than done, especially in the past couple years with the countless unforeseen changes we have all had to face. During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States saw a 25% increase in cases of child and adolescent depression. Anxiety in children and teens also rose dramatically by about 20%. Children’s lives are always changing, whether they are moving to a new school, dealing with their parents’ divorce, or even facing challenges with friends. For this reason, it is important for parents to be able to notice when their child is not feeling their best and to have the proper resources to help.

Noticing changes in your child’s behavior

Thankfully, many signs of disturbances in a child’s mental health are well studied and easy to spot. Be on the lookout for signs of recent changes in their behavior, such as not wanting to do activities they used to like, becoming easily aggravated, and changes in their social and academic life at school.
Some examples of worrying behavior may include:
  • Not behaving in school
  • Not getting along with or hanging out with friends
  • Changes in grades
  • Changes in normal eating and sleeping routines
  • Low energy levels or irritability
Everyone has a bad day once in a while, but kids who are exhibiting worrying behavior for longer periods of time may be showing signs of anxiety, depression, or another mental health disorder.

Getting the right help

Talk with your children and let them know that it’s okay to not feel okay. This is an important step in allowing your child to feel comfortable sharing their feelings with others. Talking it out can help them visualize the issue from a different point of view and let them know they are not alone.
In addition to a strong support system of family and friends, many lifestyle factors such as exercising consistently, eating healthy, and getting enough sleep can dramatically improve mental health and overall quality of life.
If you are concerned that your child may be showing signs of a mental health disorder, there are many options to get them help they need.
Talking to your pediatrician is often the next best step. Your child’s pediatrician can help you sort out whether speaking with a mental health professional may be a good idea. They can determine whether it would be helpful to see a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, or licensed professional counselor. Your child’s school may also have a counselor who can guide you in the right direction.
The 211 Hotline is a helpful resource that children and parents can call at any time, day or night, to speak with someone and be directed to local mental health resources.
If your child’s behavior is unsafe, or if your child talks about wanting to hurt themselves or someone else, seek help immediately.

To learn more about pediatrician-approved ways to detect and treat children’s mental health issues, visit or contact the Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Miami, a program supported by The Children’s Trust, at 305-243-9080.


Global Prevalence of Depressive and Anxiety Symptoms in Children and Adolescents During COVID-19. Read more
How to Talk About Mental Health With Your Child and Their Pediatrician. Read more
Children and Mental Health: Is This Just a Stage?. Read more


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