How I talk to children about mental health
We've all seen the scary statistics on social media regarding mental health. Some of those statistics suggest that as many as 1 in 3 of us in the UK have a mental health condition. Unfortunately, children don't live in a bubble where this reality doesn't exist. I'm not an expert on mental health but this article is how I approach the subject, defining things in simple terms that children can understand and championing the 5 ways to mental well being. I believe we need to encourage children to talk about these things and we also need to help them develop skills that will reduce risk factors for them developing mental health conditions. This is not a definitive guide to mental health but here are some ideas of starting points for conversations that might help.
Answering the big questions
Q: What is mental health?
A: Mental Health is our ability to think clearly and feel emotions that make sense for what is happening around us.
Q: What is depression?
A: Everybody feels sad sometimes but if someone feels sad all the time even when they are doing their favourite things that’s when it’s time to talk and ask for help.
Q: What is anxiety?
A: It’s normal to worry about things sometimes but if you can’t think about anything else and you are worrying all the time about things that other people say you don’t need to worry about it’s time to talk and ask for help.
Q: What can I do?
A: We need to look after our brains just like we look after the rest of our body. Doctors have come up with up with 5 ways to mental well-being. Just like the eat 5 pieces of fruit and vegetables everyday advice. They are an easy way to help keep the brain healthy and to feel good. If we follow the 5 ways to mental well being it’s easier for us to see what having a healthy brain feels like and it’s easier to know when you might need some help.
Learning isn't just about going to school. School will teach you what you need to know but what's really exciting is learning the stuff that you want to know! So, what interests you? Can you find out more about it by talking to people who are also interested in the same thing, by watching a video about it or reading a book about it?
You should also try to learn to do new things. You might learn to play a musical instrument, learn to juggle, learn to fly (well, maybe not, but you could learn about how birds fly and how to make an aeroplane),
Here's one that will help your physical health as well as your mental health. There are very simple things that you can do to be more active like walking or cycling to places instead of getting your mum or dad to drive you. You could join a team-you don't have to be the star of the team to take part in sports. You could put on some music and dance with your friends. When we move around our body creates happy chemicals called endorphin they can make you feel great!
When we say connect as one of the ways to mental well being we're not talking about putting LEGO bricks together we're talking about putting people together. Connecting is about friends, family and community. We connect better with people by doing things together and sharing what we have.
Connecting is also about having real conversations. I mean where you really listen and think about what the other person is saying. Learning about other people's thoughts and feelings will help you to feel more connected to them.
What can you do to make the world a better place?
Now think about things that you can do, this is not about giving away your things or your mum and dad's money.
Kindness is about doing something for someone else even if it doesn't benefit you. You could volunteer to help your mum, other children or your teacher. You can make a real difference by being kind.
Sometimes our heads can get so full of information and confused that we need to take time to focus on simple things. Taking notice is about using all of you 5 senses to really take in what is happening around you.
If you were brushing your teeth you could think about how the toothpaste tastes; what it feels like to have the bristles of the toothbrush in your mouth; what sounds the brush is making on your teeth; what the difference is between before and after you've cleaned your teeth.
Thinking about one thing, the thing that you are doing and nothing else will help you feel more relaxed.
A bit of extra help
These 5 ways to mental well being are meant for everyone, not just for people who are showing symptoms of a mental health difficulty. If you are worried about your mental health or someone else's mental health the best thing you can do is talk to your GP.
There are some great self help books too, I particularly like the books by Dawn Huebner which you can find out more about here. They are perfectly written for primary aged children and each book covers a different difficulty they might be struggling with.
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