By Meadowlark Monaghan, AIM Youth Advisory Board Member
For many, the holidays act as a cataclysm for stress.
According to C.S. Mott’s National Poll on Children’s Health, one in six parents report high stress levels during the holidays, with one in five stating that said stress negatively impacts their child’s experience of the season… Couple that with nearly one in five children experiencing a diagnosable mental health condition, and stress becomes as synonymous with the holidays as chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
With a holiday prevalence analogy linking mental illness straight to food, it’s no surprise that one such particular stressor comes from a group of mental illnesses seemingly overlooked despite their exorbitantly grave outcomes: eating disorders.
Eating disorders have the 2nd highest mortality rate of any mental illness, with nearly 1 person dying every 52 minutes as a direct result of their illness. It goes without saying that parenting a child with an eating disorder is unbelievably scary—eating disorders can wreak havoc on an adolescent’s body, affecting their cardiovascular, endocrine, neurological, and gastrointestinal systems, and place the entire family unit into crisis mode.
That is exactly what Mohina C., mother of a daughter with an eating disorder, was experiencing as she began seeking treatment interventions for her daughter. Despite both being physicians, Mohina and her partner struggled to find treatment options. With a growing desperation, Mohina found solace in online Facebook Groups that acted as virtual peer support resources for her during this time… and even pointed her to a new treatment intervention that changed the course of their family’s life.
Via these groups, Mohina stumbled upon Dr. Walter Kaye, the founder and director of the Eating Disorders Center at the University of California San Diego, an AIM grant recipient and member of the organization’s Scientific Advisory Board.
Kaye leads a team of researchers and clinicians devoted to understanding the neurological bases of eating disorders and using knowledge of the brain to improve treatment. With the help of AIM, they developed a series of video training sessions for families looking to support a member with an eating disorder.
“What these videos did for us… was basically to put it all together,” Mohina shared, “it was like a survival guide for parents truly going through turmoil.”
Mohina found that oftentimes providers sought to help families educate themselves through a book list that rivals college curriculum. The accessibility of Dr. Kaye’s videos were especially impactful for her as her family was in crisis mode. With an understanding of how pivotal quick, safe, and effective interventions are needed to save a child’s life, Dr. Kaye’s videos provided a roadmap to healing at a time that Mohina and her family needed it most.
“There is nothing more precious than your child’s physical and mental health. Our children are suffering. Our children’s mental health is a public mental health crisis right now. We all need to stand up and do something about it.
Because of AIM, I’m very confident that this research and these treatment modalities will be ongoing, and that many, many families will get the help that families like ours (even though we’re two physicians) were not able to find.”
AIM Youth Mental Health understands that youth mental health is at a pivotal time for intervention. Over 50% of lifetime mental illnesses begin around age 14. For these young people, the right treatment can be life-changing—and lifesaving. Yet unfortunately, many young people don’t receive the mental health support they need, often due to barriers such as stigma, fear, and lack of accessible treatment options.
AIM is on the frontlines of solving the youth mental health crisis by providing mental health programming for young people, along with training for caring adults and support for scientific research that results in groundbreaking new solutions. Not only is AIM targeting interventions at this pivotal age to set up the next generation of mentally healthy individuals, they actively engage and empower youth along the process.
One marvelous example of said programming is the AIM Ideas Lab. Over 1,600 teenagers from 23 schools engaged with AIM’s Ideas Lab, which empowers high school students to discover their own mental health solutions through research, peer conversations, and sharing their ideas and experiences.
In fact, from a feedback survey after the 2023 AIM Ideas Lab:
- 80% of participants strongly agree that they have gained research skill by participating in the program
- 87% strongly agree they have learned how to have safe and helpful conversations about youth mental health
- 87% strongly agree they feel like they made a positive impact on youth mental health
Mohina is just one parent whose family has been impacted by the scope of AIM’s commitment to empowering youth and giving hope to children and families facing the struggles that mental health challenges bring. We understand that as a public mental health crisis, youth participation in their own solutions and care is equally as important as the cutting-edge research we continue to fund.
“When you’ve gone through this much unexpected turmoil, you speak from the heart” Mohina chokes up, “thank you AIM for taking upon yourself such an important, important task of helping our children.”
Mental health has been an ignored and stigmatized topic for far too long. Together, we are bringing mental health out of the shadows and helping young people receive the tools and support they need. We hope you will join us this Giving Tuesday as we work to create a world of mentally healthy children and youth.
About the Author
Meadowlark Monaghan (she/hers) is a consultant using her knowledge gained as a mental health professional to act as a liaison between brands, creators, + online communities with the field of psychology and mental health. She also co-hosts the personal development podcast, Thoughts May Vary. Her work has been seen with Madhappy, Local Optimist, The Mayfair Group, Lonely Ghost, AIM Youth Mental Health, NAMI San Diego and more.