World Mental Health Day is Wednesday 10th October, which means now is as good as time as any to encourage the conversation surrounding our mental health. Mental Health is becoming more widely accepted in conversation, but there is still work to be done — especially when it comes to our children. Introducing the topic and importance of mental wellness at a young age will directly impact the way mental health is valued in society. Breaking the stigma is done only through conversation, and the sooner we normalize the topic, the easier it becomes to discuss. Mental health disorders are very common among children and adolescents, with the most common being Anxiety disorders, Depression, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Eating disorders.
According to the US National Institute of Mental Health, 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by the age of 14, and 75% begin by the age of 24. These numbers are eye opening and further enhance the importance of beginning these conversations at a young age. Knowing the signs of what to look for in kids is vital to addressing any mental health conditions. We are dedicated to continuing the conversation and raising awareness on how kids and families alike can practice self care and keep mental health at the forefront of conversation.
What Are the Signs?
Perhaps one of the most challenging parts of recognising a mental health disorder in children is being able to distinguish common growing pains from abnormalities in adolescent behaviour. There are warning signs to look for in children who may be experiencing mental health problems. The most prominent warning signs include: episodes of crying, hearing or seeing things that no one else hears or sees, loss of motivation or interest in hobbies and activities once found pleasurable, extreme anxiety, guilt, anger, changes in weight, sleeping excessively or being unable to sleep, and use of alcohol or other drugs.
Educate Yourselves and Others
If your child has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder it’s important to know that you, nor your child are alone in diagnosis. To gain a better understanding, there are free family friendly mental health materials that can help guide conversation and provide a sense of understanding at all ages. Jumo Health offers discussion guides for parents and caretakers to aid in conversation with doctors after diagnoses. In addition there are comic books and podcasts that can establish a sense of camaraderie in learning how to live with mental illness.
Encourage an Overall Healthy Lifestyle
How can we be proactive in the effort to encouraging our children to maintain a healthy well-being? We’ve established that knowledge is power and dialogue is essential. But we can also begin to incorporate opportunities of self expression into the everyday lives of our children. This can allow for the freedom of children and adolescents to express themselves both honestly and transparently. Here are ways to help promote positive mental health:
Creative expression is a great outlet to allow for people to express their most true feelings. When words are too hard to say, or perhaps don’t allow for accurate representation of emotion, art is a productive outlet. According to Dr Sheridan Linnell, “Often creativity helps you to express parts of yourself that are being hidden. Expression through art can be healing in itself, and it can also be a stepping stone for being able to make sense of yourself and express yourself and your story to others.” Children are more likely to express themselves through art rather than conversation. Whether it’s drawing, painting, or even doodling being able to have control over the creation of what is portrayed is sometimes all those are suffering from mental illness need.
Exercise has a very obvious impact on our physical health, but what many don’t realize is that it has an impact on our mental well-being as well. Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative moods, and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Encouraging kids to get out and exercise for even just 30 minutes a day has many benefits. One of which is to relieve any pent up stress or emotion that they have been internalizing. Exercise is also a great opportunity for social interaction and making new friends, therefore aiding in the effort to minimize time alone or isolation.
Expressive writing can have many positive outcomes when it comes to our mental health. Journaling is a great way to clear your head, make important connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, and even buffer or reduce the effects of mental illness. It is a great way to encourage openness without the pressure of having to address difficult emotions through open dialogue right away. Even though writing is not verbally articulating your emotions, you’re allowing for total expression without fear of being judged. Writing through emotions can help a child (and adults too) work through their feelings in a productive manner, before attempting to articulate them to others. Dedicating time to write can become part of a daily routine that allows the individual to recap their day and process their emotions. This can be a family adopted activity, which can in turn establish a sense of normalcy.
And remember, if you are worried about your child’s mental health, your GP/Health Practitioner will be on hand to support you.