With the recent deaths of noted celebrities, and the choking challenge videos that have gone viral on the internet, it is becoming increasing important to talk about the effects of mental health on our society with our families.
I know that it is one of those topics that we rarely think about until it hits home, or hits the news. But, being able to notice the signs of someone suffering from mental or emotional distress is life saving – for the person suffering and their loved ones.
When we talk openly about our feelings and struggles, we normalize it for our children and help them learn that discussing their concerns is not a sign of weakness.
However, it can be such a daunting and scary task to talk about mental health with our children. We don’t want them to get any ideas. We don’t want to think that things can be so painful for them that they would think about harming themselves or someone else.
But, the truth is – mental health awareness is not just about immediate response. It’s about knowing that our mental health is just as important as physical health. It’s about creating a safe space to talk about our feelings and thoughts without judgment and shame. And, it’s about letting each member of our family know that they don’t have to suffer alone.
Interestingly enough, I grew up in a family where mental health was usually discussed with a negative air, having emotional issues was a sign of weakness, and talking about feelings made you sensitive. It took a long time for me to realize that no matter how much I tried to shove it under the rug and keep it hidden, I had feelings and thoughts that could change the way I lived and enjoyed life. It was difficult to reach out as a young adult for help because it was ingrained in me that the feelings and thoughts I was having were signs of weakness and made me too thin-skinned.
I know that I am not the only one who grew up in a household where mental health – or mental illness – was a bad, shameful word. But, you now have the power to change those habits and allow your family to develop healthy associations with the word mental health.
These are some strategies that I give to parents for building then foundation for mental health acceptance into their families:
Talk about feelings
Like, actually start sentences off with: “I feel…” or “I’m feeling…” Expand your feelings vocabulary from mad, happy, or sad and really show that it’s okay to have a spectrum of feelings. Make attempts to listen to each other when feelings are shared, and try not to dismiss the feelings as dramatic or fleeting. And, if you’re at a loss for feelings words, check out these feelings posters/card: http://bit.ly/feelingsposters
Learn about mental health together
Sadly, the only way we seem to know about mental health is when something tragic has happened. But, mental health awareness is also about learning positive ways to develop healthy emotions and thought habits. There are a lot of organizations that believe in mental health awareness. One of the most recognized is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). I encourage you to take you family to an informational meeting or NAMI event in your area: http://bit.ly/1oqRk4c
Share daily experiences
One of the most effective ways to help build a safe space in your home to talk about mental health is to just talk! Each day you and your family experience all sorts of things – from school to work to traffic to getting everyone to their respective activities. All these experiences have different effects on each member of your family. I encourage families to share at least 20-30 mins a day just listening to each others daily experiences. And, it doesn’t have to interfere with your already cramped schedule – you can do this on the car ride home, while you're cleaning the kitchen dishes, or as part of your bedtime ritual. The more you know about how each member handles their day, the more likely you’ll be to notice changes in their behaviors or feelings or thoughts.
Know where to find help
This may be the most overlooked part of building mental health awareness into your child’s thoughts. But, just like you’ve taught them how to find help if they are lost, you should teach your child where to go when they need help with overwhelming feelings or thoughts. Help your child understand that it is not a sign of weakness to talk to a teacher, counselor, religious leader, coach, or mental health professional is they are feeling weighed down by their feelings. Also, I always encourage families to have access to hotlines (like the National Suicide Hotline: http://bit.ly/NationalSuicideHotline) available in the house for anyone to use.
Overall, parents it is important that you create a safe space in your home for your children to talk about what is bothering them – whether it’s emotional, psychological, or physical. Building mental health awareness and education into your family’s tradition can help save lives and prevent tragic events from bringing pain to those you love.
Feelings Poster – http://bit.ly/feelingsposters
National Alliance on Mental Illness – http://bit.ly/1oqRk4c
National Suicide Hotline – http://bit.ly/NationalSuicideHotline
MentalHealth.Gov -- http://1.usa.gov/1kYekXD