Thankfully we live in a world where mental health is far more talked about than it ever has been. But that doesn’t mean everything is OK; there are more pressures these days on all of us and this can lead to more problems. Parents have a duty of care to their children and mental health very much comes into that. But it can be very hard to understand what the right thing to do is and how to deal with any issues. Here are some simple concepts and ideas that can help parents of children of any age from installing good habits in very young kids to being able to support teens and young adults.
It is really important that you seek professional help immediately if you feel your child or anyone you know may be thinking about hurting themselves or others.
When we talk about mental health in young people and adults it normally refers to negative situations. Mental health as a category tends to just include discussions about depression, anxiety, OCD and more. But it is important to remember the word “health”. Having a mental health problem should be the same as having a health problem. So as a parent it is really useful to start viewing mental health as something we can work on, improve, and nurture just like we would the physical health of our children and ourselves. We encourage our kids to exercise, eat well and be healthy so we should do the same with their mental well being too.
Looking online for solutions to physical health problems can be, well, rather a lottery. A bit of Googling can turn a blister into a life-threatening disease so it isn’t always a good idea. However, there are some good resources for mental health information online. Hidden Strength is a new site designed to offer advice for young people that is vetted and approved by professionals. There are others too like the NSPCC which has long been providing information and support for young people and parents. Going online to learn more can be very useful, but it must be done with care. IF the situation is serious you must speak to a professional. Online resources can provide lots of support for parents and young people. They can benefit from seeing they are not alone, that other people feel the same and it’s a great place for parents to get some ideas on how to help.
At younger ages it is thankfully less common to have some of the more well-known mental health issues like depression. But that doesn’t mean they do not worry and do not feel bad sometimes. It is also a critical time to help build a health mind and a healthy ability to understand themselves and those around them. It is really important to talk to younger children about their feelings both good and bad. This helps build a culture of being open and opening up. This means being, at least partially, open about our feelings as parents too. Kids need to understand being sad, or angry or scared is ok and we all feel it. While it may not be ideal to open up completely about our own mental health issues to a 6-year-old it is OK to admit being scared about things and being sad sometimes. It is also important for kids to grow up understanding that other people have feelings, their friends may be scared or sad and they can be supportive. Reward empathy, reward openness and it will hold them in good stead.
Teens and Young Adults
As we move towards puberty a lot can change. Mental health issues can surface that may go away again but should be taken seriously. Once again, fostering a culture of talking and being open in a household is important. Struggling is OK, its normal and helping young people understand that others can help is critical.
Mobile phone and tablet use can be a big area to look at. At a basic level it can affect sleep and that can have a very damaging effect on anyone’s mental health. But there are also lots of issues that can occur around texting, social media and inappropriate online material. Set limits, create a healthy understanding of screen use and don’t be a hypocrite. Set phones aside for family time, be aware of the example you set as parent.
Our Mental Health
Many parents out there will have had or do have mental health issues themselves. Perhaps in their 40s finally working through issues they have hidden for years. This is a good thing, but it is important to know that parents who may have unresolved issues can cause problems in their children unintentionally. As a parent it is useful to seek help and work through issues before they are passed on. It could be things like obsessive behaviour around cleaning that feels normal but can, in fact, have a massive impact on younger children. Our own mental state is contagious for children so whether you are in the middle of therapy, out the other side or perhaps not even at that point yet, be aware of what you are passing on.
Talk, Be Open and Be Aware
While this post certainly can’t offer help and advice about every issue and behaviours it can offer some core “take aways”.
Talk – just talk! Create a home where talking about feelings and issues is normal.
Be Open – you may not understand why your teen in depressed but be open to the fact it’s real for them. Be open to sexuality, gender, stress, sadness…just be open.
Be Aware – Understand some of the common signs that there may be an issue in children, teens and young adults. As a parent you are not doubt aware of signs of severe illnesses, so make sure you are aware of mental health warning signs too.
We can’t make mental health issues stop appearing, but we can deal with them when they do arrive.