October 10th is World Mental Health Day — a day for us all to raise awareness about the importance of mental health. Each year, the World Federation for Mental Health sets a theme, and the 2023 theme is “Mental Health is a Universal Right.”
Here at Camber Children’s Mental Health, we couldn’t agree more. As we’re currently experiencing a mental health crisis in the United States, it’s important to spread the message that everyone is entitled to the highest standard of mental health care.
At Camber, our mission is to enrich and enhance the lives of children and families with trauma-focused behavioral healthcare services that foster connection and nurture health and wellness. As we commemorate World Mental Health Day, let’s explore why mental health is so crucial, the benefits of treating and maintaining mental health, plus some tips and insights to help the children in your life experience mental wellness.
Why does mental health matter?
Our mental health controls our emotional, psychological and social wellbeing throughout our lifetime. During each stage of life — childhood, adolescence and adulthood — our mental health and how it affects the way we think, feel and act.
Depending on life circumstances, our mental health can change over time. Factors like childhood trauma and adversity, chronic health conditions, chemical imbalances, biological inheritance, substance use and isolation/loneliness can impact the state of our mental health. Studies show a link between the recent pandemic and mental health struggles, especially in developing youth and teens, which is significantly contributing to the current crisis. However, the stigma associated with mental health struggles, as well as limited access to care, also affects the growing issue of obtaining proper mental health care and receiving its benefits.
The current state of mental health for young people paints a challenging picture:
- Recently, at least one in five adults and more than one in five youth in the U.S. struggle with their mental health and about one in 25 adults and about one in 10 adolescents (ages 10-25) have had or have been previously diagnosed with a serious mental condition.
- Nearly 15% of children have recently received treatment for mental health, with most treatments among adolescents between 12 and 17 years old.
- Of high school students, four in 10 experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. Nearly a quarter have seriously considered attempting suicide.
The Benefits of Mental Health Care
For caregivers, it’s sometimes easier to identify a child’s core physical health needs — like safe shelter, healthy food, clothing, a reasonable bedtime — than mental health. However, mental health is just as important for children as physical health and safety.
If a child in your care is struggling with mental health, things can feel heartbreaking. But getting professional care can make a transformational impact! In addition to helping children with stability in thoughts and actions and the ability to reach their full potential, the benefits of taking care of mental health include the reduction of excess stress, anxiety and other symptoms. Good mental health can result in:
- Improved Moods
- Healthy Coping Strategies
- Clearer Thinking and Decision Making
- Healthier Relationships and Interpersonal Skills
- Increased Self-esteem
- Heightened Sense of Inner Peace
- Better Physical Health
How to Promote Mental Health and Wellness
With the growing need for mental health care, it’s become increasingly important for caregivers to be proactive with the mental health and overall wellbeing of the children in their lives. Explore some ideas for strengthening children’s mental health.
Self-care is not selfish! It’s an essential part of maintaining good mental health. Identifying activities that bring joy and relaxation — such as reading, taking a bath, practicing mindfulness or engaging in favorite hobbies — can be game-changers. Help children consider what kinds of joyful activities feel like a nice reset for them during stressful times and encourage them to draw from these ideas in their toolbox.
Establish a Routine
Structure and stability are key to maintaining mental health, and a daily routine can help provide it. Set up a regular sleep schedule, help children incorporate exercise into their day and allocate time for both work and play. By maintaining a routine, you might notice reduced stress, improved productivity and a sense of autonomy. In a world where so much feels out of control for children, routines can be empowering.
Cultivate Social Connections
Strong relationships and social connections play a large role in promoting mental health. Help children in their efforts to connect with friends, family and loved ones regularly. Encourage them to engage in meaningful conversations, share their thoughts and feelings and be open to offering support when needed. Social interactions can provide a sense of belonging and contribute to positive mental wellbeing. As a caregiver, you can model strong connections in your own life too.
Research proves that physical exercise is not only beneficial for your physical health but also has a profound impact on mental health. Regular exercise releases endorphins, which are known to boost mood and reduce stress. Help your child find physical activities that are personally enjoyable. This can include structured activities, like playing a team or individual sport, taking a dance class or practicing martial arts. But physical activity can also be organic, like a walk around the block, a family dance party in the kitchen or a bike ride! Listen for clues about what physical activities spark your child’s interest and cheer them on when they engage.
Practice Mindfulness and Stress Management
Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, can help calm the mind and reduce stress levels. Taking a few minutes each day to focus on your breath, observe your thoughts without judgment and practice gratitude can be transformational for both children and adults alike. Mindfulness can be part of helping your child create a mental health toolkit and find healthy coping mechanisms to manage stress, such as journaling, listening to music or engaging in creative activities.
Limit Screen Time
Especially for the developing minds of children, it’s important to be mindful of the impact excessive screen time creates on mental health. Try setting boundaries on the use of technology for the whole family, especially before bed, since it can interfere with sleep patterns. Instead, engage in activities that promote relaxation and connection to the real world.
Studies show that only about half of the youth struggling with mental health reach out for help. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. If a child in your care (or in your community) is struggling with mental health, consider reaching out to a trusted mental health professional or call the Crisis Lifeline at 988.
Mental health is a universal right and there are many ways to find access. Promoting better mental health and wellness is a lifelong journey that requires dedication and self-compassion. Even amid a mental health crisis, there is help and guidance. By prioritizing mental health and supporting others, you can help children in your care nurture their minds and lead a more fulfilling and balanced life. Even small steps toward better mental health can make a significant difference!