Recent studies show that the disease burden of mental illness in Ontario is an alarming 1.5 times higher than all cancers put together and more than 7 times that of all infectious diseases. Spanning from children to middle-aged adults, many are suffering from mental and emotional distress. Rates of anxiety and depression are occurring on a larger scale making it important to build emotional and mental strength.
Experts at Mental Health America (MHA) found that good feelings can boost one’s ability to deal with stress, solve problems, think flexibly, and even fight disease. Hence why creating a positive mindset by taking care of your body’s emotional and mental needs is an important part of self-care for both children and adults.
It’s never too early to focus on our mental well-being. To help you and your family improve your mental health, we’ve put together ways for parents and children to practice self-care together.
Expressing negative emotions makes room for positive thoughts and feelings to foster.
1. Start a conversation. Talking about mental health, let alone our general feelings and thoughts, can be uncomfortable. As a family, it’s important to establish a “safe-zone” where there is trust and comfort that each person’s thoughts will be heard and validated without judgement. Navigate the “unknown” together as parent and child by listening to one another, asking questions, and offering support. For children who are apprehensive about talking to their parents for a variety of reasons, find materials about mental health to help you explain what you’re going through.
Good nutrition is essential for mental health.
2. Build good habits. A balanced mood correlates with a balanced diet. As a matter of fact, the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) found that those who report some degree of mental health problems eat fewer healthy foods (fresh fruit and vegetables, organic foods and home-cooked meals) and consume more unhealthy foods (chips, chocolate, frozen meals). It’s easy to tell your children to eat better, but it’s more effective to be a positive influence by demonstrating through your own actions. Start with dinnertime — ditch the takeout and allocate at least one night a week to have a sit down meal together. There are many physical, mental and emotional benefits of regular family meals. Not only can you teach your children about good nutrition, but you can encourage healthy habits and bond by cooking meals together. What’s more is that you can use meal time to engage in conversation with each other and reconnect as a family.
Laughter can be the best medicine.
3. Make time for joy. When you participate in an activity you enjoy, your stress levels can decrease. It’s even better if you and your loved ones can enjoy activities together, like watching a funny movie or show. National Certified Counselor Tanya J. Peterson notes, “The act of laughing is similar to deep breathing in its ability to increase the oxygen in our bodies. Coupled with reducing stress hormones, the increased oxygen in the body helps lead to muscle relaxation. All of this helps reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety.”
Stay alert and aware of warning signs that you or your loved one may need to seek assistance from a mental health professional.
4. Recognize changes. Children may have a difficult time grasping mental health concepts, including identifying negative feelings and harmful thoughts. Therefore, it’s important to recognize and pay attention to changes in thoughts and behaviors in both children and adults. According to MHA, symptoms that may indicate a mental health condition developing in both adolescents and adults can include: prolonged depression (sadness or irritability), feelings of extreme highs and lows, excessive fears, worries and anxieties, social withdrawal, drastic changes in eating or sleeping habits, strong feelings of anger, delusions and hallucinations, growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities, suicidal thoughts, and substance use or abuse.
Remember: Teach your family that if someone is in crisis now, seek help immediately by calling 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). If you aren’t comfortable talking out loud, text Connecteen at 587-333-2724 (Monday to Friday, from 3pm – 10pm and Saturday and Sunday from 12pm).
The Ontario Home Economics Association, a self-regulating body of professional Home Economists, promotes high professional standards among its members so that they may assist families and individuals to achieve and maintain a desirable quality of life.