May is Mental Health Month. Chances are you or someone you know has been affected by mental health issues. One in five Americans live with a mental health condition.
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental Health is important at every stage of life, from childhood, adolescence, through adulthood. (Mental Health.gov)
All of us may have struggled with worries, fear, frustration, or loneliness during the pandemic. Some of us may have family members who struggle with anxiety or depression. Some of us have grieved from the loss of loved ones and our loss of closeness to others during the pandemic. We may feel angry about racial injustice. Some of us may feel fearful to go out into the world to take care of daily chores.
When anxiety or depression impairs our ability to complete daily tasks like going to school or work, we may need to ask for professional help. When anxiety or depression impairs our ability to sleep or get out of bed and take a shower, we may need to ask for professional help.
One way to address mental health issues is to start by having a complete physical
medical check-up to make sure a medical condition is not contributing to feelings of being tired.
Did you know that depression can be a symptom of diabetes? Also, if you have depression, you are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. They both are treatable!
Did you know that drinking alcohol can actually increase depression?
Did you know that vaping can actually increase irritability and trigger a mental health issue as well as a medical issue? Nicotine exposure during adolescence can disrupt normal brain development and may have long lasting effects, such as increased impulsivity and mood disorders.
Children who have had traumatic events in their lives may experience mental health vulnerabilities. Children may show us with their behaviors or physical symptoms how they are experiencing their world. They may not have the words yet to express how they feel. Children who are experiencing depression may appear to be irritable. Children may be fearful of leaving home or afraid to be separated from caregivers. Children who may benefit from mental health services may be struggling with their relationships with others at home, school and in the community.
Recognizing the signs of Mental Health concerns in children and teens:
- Problems with concentration, memory or ability to think clearly
- Changes in appetite
- Feeling sad, empty, hopeless or worthless
- Loss of interest in things they used to enjoy
- Excessive worry
- Irritability or restlessness
- Changes in sleep
- Angry outbursts, fighting a lot with family and friends
- Not wanting to be around people or take part in activities
- Mood swings or changes in behaviors
- Hearing or seeing things other people don’t
As children return to their schools, we all need to recognize the importance of social emotional health in the lives of our children and families.
Mental Health.gov identifies ways to maintain positive mental health which includes the following: connecting with a trusted friend or family member, developing coping skills, getting physically active, eating healthy food, getting enough sleep, helping others and staying positive.
1. Connecting with others is an important component of wellness. Connecting with loved ones like friends, family members, faith-based communities, and mentors is important so that we don’t feel isolated. Talking to our family members and listening to how they feel can improve our understanding and perspective of how others feel about the changes in our environment. Sharing our thoughts and feelings about the changes we are all experiencing can increase our connection to others. Staying in touch with friends and asking for help if we are feeling down or anxious can reduce our feelings of isolation.
2. Developing coping skills to reduce our frustration or help us calm down when we are feeling angry are important skills for all of us to develop. One example is to practice deep breathing exercises to calm our brain. Just talking five deep breaths can help us calm our mind.
Find a comfortable sitting position with your feet on the floor.
Try breathing in for 4 counts, hold 4 counts, breath out 4 counts. Repeat five times.
How did that make you feel?
A free app called “Headspace” that provides mindfulness exercises can give us direct examples of how to practice breathing techniques and experience mindfulness first hand.
For children and parents- YouTube has great examples of kids talking about how they feel and then practicing breathing. “Just Breath” has examples about calming down using breathing to relax. For younger children, YouTube Sesame Street Back to school with Elmo is a PSA “Slow Deep Breath in English and Spanish”.
3. Eating healthy meals is the best thing we can do for our brains. Try eating more fresh fruits and vegetables while reducing packaged foods. We can help create life-long healthy eating habits by teaching our children about healthy food choices and including them in the meal preparation process.
4. Getting physically active and exercising can create a life-long healthy living habit.
If you don’t know where to start here are some suggestions: Go outside and enjoy the sun while taking a walk around the block. Put on some calming music and stretch your body. Dance to your favorite music. Play a game of catch or jump rope with your children. Don’t forget to stand up and stretch your neck, shoulders, arms and back between zoom distance learning or zoom meetings. Take breaks to walk around the house and refocus for the next class or meeting.
We can include our children or friends in fun ways to incorporate exercise into our daily routines. Even 20 minutes a day of exercise can improve our mood. Ideas include a game of tag, movement games, jogging, walking, riding a bike, or yard work.
5. Getting enough sleep is very important for our brain to relax and recharge by integrating the days events or learning. Having a sleep routine such as going to sleep at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each day can be key for sleep health. Tension and relaxation techniques can help you relax as you prepare to sleep. Creating a routine is an important part as we prepare for bed and go to sleep. Turning off electronic devices (phones, computers, iPads, etc.) and not looking at blue screens an hour before we go to sleep can enable us to fall asleep faster and get more quality sleep.
6. Helping others- Reach out to others that may be feeling isolated. Check in on a neighbor who may be alone. Offer to help a friend complete a task they are having difficulty completing. Offer to do some grocery shopping for an older adult who is staying at home. Many of us feel better when we help others.
7. Staying positive- Before you go to sleep list all of the people you are grateful for. Notice and acknowledge others positive actions and accomplishments. Thank your children or spouse/partner for helping complete chores. Kids respond to positive attention, notice the little things. Be specific in your compliment. “Thank you for helping to set the table.” Or “Thank you for drying the dishes and putting them away”. Be aware of your positive and negative thoughts. If notice negative thoughts, replace the thought with affirmations. “I am loved” or “I am safe”.
If you have not been connecting with others, not eating right and/or not exercising and are experiencing feelings of hopelessness and/or a loss of interest in activities that you used to enjoy, please reach out to and connect with a trusted friend or relative.
Please also remember to seek professional help if you need it. Here are Resources-
The ACCESS line at the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health is a 24/7 line that can provide referrals for adults and children at 800-854-7771.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255
Substance Abuse Service Helpline: 844-804-7500
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) Helpline: 800-985-5990
National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 800-950-NAMI
The NAMI You Are Not Alone campaign focuses on connecting people to resources or free online support groups, so no one struggles through this difficult time alone. nami.org