Supporting family’s emotional wellness during Mental Health Awareness Month [Ask the Pediatrician column] | Together
With the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine, there has been a new sense of hope and a slight decrease in anxiety. Even if we still have a long way to go to end this pandemic – keep wearing your mask !! – It is a good time to think about the next steps. What impact the pandemic is having and will have on our mental health is unclear, but one thing is certain: a little education and prevention can go a long way.
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month and May 7th is National Children’s Mental Health Day. This month of awareness and education is a great time to do a few things for your own mental health and the wellbeing of others. It is estimated that one in four of us has a mental health problem. The ideas below are some of the many ways to turn the trend from mental illness to emotional wellbeing.
Know your ACE score
We know from a study by Kaiser Permanente that certain “household events” in childhood, such as abuse, divorce, poverty and death, contribute to a person’s mental and physical health in the long term. The ACE (Adverse Childhood Events) score is a research-based rating system that enables a person to understand their risks. An ACE of 4 or more has been shown to increase your risk of depression, anxiety, heart disease, and suicide. However, ACE values cannot be taken for granted. They are only intended to create awareness of the importance of prevention and self-care.
Change your language
The way we talk about mental health and illness contributes to negative stigma and acts as a barrier to intervention. Think about how you talk about mental health problems.
For example, a person is not depressed, they are depressed. Never use words like crazy or psychological when talking about someone with mental health problems. Avoid expressions like “I’m going to kill myself”. Stop saying, “Committed suicide” but instead say, “He died suicide”. The way we speak matters, and it’s time to develop.
Read a book on the subject
One suggestion: “Permission to Feel” by Mark Brackett. This book describes an easy way to promote emotional intelligence and mental wellbeing by using the acronym RULER (Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing and Regulating). And a good children’s book that offers age-appropriate insights into mental health is “Ruby Finds a Worry” by Tom Percival.
See a movie that sheds some light on experiences with mental illness
A few suggestions:
• “Of Two Minds”, a documentary that portrays the sometimes harsh but real experiences of people with bipolar disorder.
• “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” a comedy about a teenager who is admitted to adult psychiatry after thoughts of suicide. While not entirely realistic, it is still worth it as it highlights some of the challenges to mental health recovery and focuses on the person rather than the disease.
• “Inside Out”, an animated film for the whole family about emotions that makes normality not always feel “perfect”.
Acknowledge the good in a child
Whether it is your own child or one in your community, it is easy for us to focus on negative behaviors and miss the good ones. Yet our children do great things every day. Did you get dressed and ready for school on your own? Could you stick to a math problem when it got difficult? Did you stop to check on a friend who was sad? The little things deserve our praise. Appropriate praise shows approval, describes the action and gives a positive consequence of the action: “Thank you for picking up the rubbish on our lawn. I know it’s easy to walk past, but you saved me the trouble and you were proud of our home. “
It has been shown that gratitude is causally linked to happiness.
Taking time each day to be grateful to yourself and others will reduce negative emotions and promote emotional health. Write down a list of things / people for which you are grateful, meditate on them, or express them verbally. There are many ways we can make gratitude a more regular part of our lives.
looking for connections
The bond with our fellow human beings is the most important determinant of physical and mental health. This doesn’t mean how many friends you have on Facebook! Instead, connectedness refers to positive interactions with people that enable expression of emotion and support. Research shows that one of the best things you can do for your own health is to go for a walk with a friend. But “flat” forms of connection are also advantageous, such as a chat with the saleswoman, a funny personal SMS conversation with a friend or a conversation with a neighbor on the other side of the street.
The definition of gaming is “activity for pleasure and recreation rather than for a serious or practical purpose”. Take time in your life for the things that don’t seem to make sense because we know their purpose is to keep your brain healthy, creative, and confident. There really isn’t a more important purpose.
Happy Mental Health Awareness Month! What a great time to educate and stand up for people affected by mental illness.
And just as important is a wonderful reminder to prioritize the things that promote psychological wellbeing in our lives.
More information on:
• You can find the ACE score from stopabusecampaign.org at lanc.news/ACEScore.
• Summertime Playtime, from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, visit lanc.news/SummerPlaytime.
• National Alliance on Mental Illness Mental Health Awareness Month, visit lanc.news/MentalHealthAware.
Dr. Pia Fenimore of Lancaster Pediatric Associates answers questions about children’s health. You can ask questions at [email protected]
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