Summer is typically a fun time for children to relax during a break from school. Many attend summer camp, a fun and interactive alternative to playing video games all day that promotes the learning of life skills and enhances both cognitive and behavioral development. The American Camp Association (ACA) reports that over 11 million children in the United States attend some sort of summer camp each year.
There are many kinds of summer camps available to children including day camps and overnight camps. Both encourage children to try new activities, make new friends and take risks, actions that boost emotional and social development. Participating in these activities in a safe environment helps children and teens learn to cope with success and failure while learning different types of activities to enjoy. While in summer camp, children are part of a community and are able to reap the psychological benefits of being delegated tasks and responsibilities, such as cleaning a bunk or washing dishes, as is often the case with overnight camps. ACA makes sure summer camps are aware of their role in the mental health of the children who attend and provides materials to educate staff on these issues. Primary mental health disorders covered are anxiety disorders, mood disorders, attention hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and eating disorders.
Overnight camps can pose an issue to children struggling with separation anxiety or those who simply have never spent time away from their families. Research shows that children and teens who make friends easily or have participated in sleepovers at other houses have the easiest time with the transition to overnight camp. Bob Ditter, M.Ed., LCSW has worked with various summer camps since 1982 and acknowledges that each child is different and the determination of which camp to choose is dependent on the child. He states, “There are some six and seven-year-olds who march eagerly off to camp without a problem, while some eleven year-olds cower with fear of becoming homesick.” Though it can be difficult, Ditter notes that the separation, whether it happens in this context or through different means, is an important part of development for both children and parents.
While the nature of most summer camps has a positive effect on the mental health of children who attend, there are many camps throughout the nation with a specific focus on mental health. For instance, Camp Confidence at the Confidence Learning Center in Minnesota focuses on helping individuals struggling with mental health issues and includes services for the hearing impaired. The camp’s mission is “to provide a year-round outdoor education and recreation center for persons of all ages with developmental and cognitive disabilities… [in an effort to enhance their] abilit[ies] and self-confidence.”
Another mental health-related camp in Minnesota is the Progression Summer Camp, hosted by the state’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Andrea Lee, the chapter’s transitions project director, developed the camp to provide local and out-of-state teens with coping skills and the ability to recognize when they are experiencing anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Throughout the camp, which is a series of classes, they also develop tools to help communicate what they are feeling to loved ones. The classes are led by young adults who have struggled with mental health issues and can empathize with campers on a similar level. Lee explains, “These amazing and talented young adults have been through many of the same challenges as the students, and are now doing extremely well. They can provide advice, share stories and help the students understand that things get better and they each have a terrific future ahead of them.”
If your child is struggling with mental health issues such as separation anxiety, help is available. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a facility that specializes in treating adolescents and teens struggling with mental health disorders, substance abuse and dual diagnosis. Call 866-615-7266 to speak with a professional today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer