10 -16th May 2021 is officially ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’. Of course this is a topic we need to be aware of 365 days of the year, not just 7! 1in 4 people in the UK have experienced a mental health problem and this has been exacerbated further during the pandemic.
At Educating Matters, mental health and wellbeing, along with connection has always been at the heart of our offering.
Please see below some ideas for a flavour of talks to support the Mental Wellbeing of your employees. Click on each title for link to outline summary.
There is still a stigma attached to mental health.
Mental health is the connection between mind and body. It is intrinsic within us.
We all have mental health and it’s an interchangeable state that ebbs and flows.
The term mental health is often misused in a negative way. All feelings are valid, good and bad. They teach us a lot about ourselves.
When your child feels bad that does not mean there is something wrong with them.
In the current environment we have a ‘laser’ focus on our children. It is a valid human experience to have both a bad and a good day.
What are the main areas of concern regarding children’s mental health during this period?
During lockdown 3.0 there is a general sense of frustration and boredom. Both children and adults feel numb about everything, things don’t seem to be getting better. It is hard to sit with the uncertainty and unpredictability. This is a shared experience.
Boundaries, routine, expectations and structure help children feel safe and content. Many of us don’t have that same security right now.
As adults we need to frame the discussion around resilience. It is okay to show you are feeling frightened or fed up. Children are incredibly adaptive but many are suffering from anxiety, low mood, sleep deprivation etc.
Parents can act as their ‘emotional container vessel’.
Allow your child to sit with their emotions.
Engage in watchful waiting – sit back and observe
How do you know when there is a real problem and what should you do?
Things to particularly look out for are ongoing low mood, not talking, not engaging, not wanting to play, lethargy and no sense of fun.
Be aware of your triggers as a parent. Allow your child to sit with difficult feelings, without needing to fix everything. Their emotional state is sometimes necessary.
Keep trying to keep the lines of communication open and help them to feel that being with you is a safe space.
They are more like likely to talk and open up when they are walking beside you or engaged in another activity, rather than the intensity of sitting down.
You are the expert on your child, tune into them. Be mindful of the internalisers and be patient with the externalisers.
Focus on the small moments and be positive.
What would be your top tips to support children at this time?
Let your children know they are loved and safe, sit with their feelings.
They had a life before Covid and there will be one after.
Name their feelings to tame them; what is shareable becomes bearable.
Engage in moments of fun and silliness, dance like no one is watching.
Practice rupture and repair – when you lose it, you can go back to your child and admit you made a mistake.
Be conscious of the energy you radiate as a parent, your children will mirror your emotions and behavior.
A lot of children have regressed in terms of their sleep.
Bedtime is often when children feel relaxed and safe and will want to talk about their feelings
Distinguish between what is a thought and what is a fact. When thoughts come into your mind, question whether they are actually true.
Get your child to create a ‘dream jar’ that they decorate and fill with dreams. Give your child a dream to go to bed with.
During the day, talk about the sorts of things that pop into their head at bedtime. Visualise them – give them a shape, colour, where do they feel them in their body?
Should we shield our children from our own emotions?
You need to take into account their age, ability and maturity. Feelings are part of a human existence and we shouldn’t hide from them.
Your children will notice anyway when you don’t feel right. You can say, sometimes I feel sad and this is what I do to help myself.
The greatest gift we can give our children is honest language but not over sharing. Children shouldn’t feel responsible for our emotions.
Try to ensure conversations are solution focused but show children what resilience looks like.
When children are not told the truth, they can go to very imaginative places
Talking about death is a normal stage of development.
How to help children not take things personally?
We are very sensitive at the moment. The nuances of conversations and communication are very different online to the reciprocity that you have in person.
It’s natural to take things personally. When we are really mad or upset with someone, we can write a message but it doesn’t mean we need to send it.
Get curious. “I wonder why they would say that.” or “I wonder what’s happening for them right now that would make them act in that way.”
Look after yourselves, you are your most important resource for your family.
This is an incredibly challenging time, however there are some positive moments and there will be positive things that come out of this period.
Use today as a reminder to connect with others; listen & talk to friends, family or work colleagues. Try to consciously articulate the thoughts in your head and how you can respond to them without judgement. If necessary reframe that narrative.
Let’s talk truth. “Blue Monday” is a marketing campaign that got more recognition than it deserved. The concept was brought about by a travel company in 2005 to try and get people to spend money. It worked! Somehow jargon has been confused with scientific truth. The idea that there can be a most depressing day of the year trivialises the impact mental health issues have on the lives of so many people on a daily basis.
Charities such as MIND have pointed out that the idea that mental health issues such as depression can come down to bad weather and over spending is insulting and belittling. They are encouraging the public to donate to mental health charities or reach out to someone in need of connection. They also encourage those who are suffering with poor mental health to reach out for help. Links are at the end of this article.
Truth can be brought to light by fiction. Here are some real truths about mental health and what we can do to better support ourselves and those around us.
Some Days Are Better Than Others
When struggling with mental health, there are up days and down days. The reasons for the ups and downs are personal and not always predictable. Those who support people with mental health issues often become confused when they see their colleagues and loved ones able to cope one day and struggle the next. Accepting this can allow people to look for possible triggers, take extra care on the down days and gain a better understanding of how and when support is needed.
The Weather Matters
Remember when your Auntie could tell you if it was going to rain because her knee acted up? There is truth in this. Weather plays a significant part in our mental health. Many people with pain conditions like fibromyalgia, see dramatic increases in pain and brain fog when the pressure drops with a rainstorm. Also, the sun brings us vitamin D which studies show most people in the UK are significantly lacking. One of the little-known benefits of vitamin D is that it helps to regulate mood and sleep. The NHS are suggesting that due to Coronavirus, most people in the UK should be taking a supplement because of all of the time we are spending indoors between March and October.
Money Can’t Buy Happiness
We’ve all heard of “Retail Therapy” which is the concept “Blue Monday” is exploiting. Spending money can give a small and very temporary boost in mood. Unfortunately, the temporary boost of buying something can prevent you from getting help when you need it. It can often come with unfortunate financial ramifications as well. Interestingly, studies have shown that resisting buying something can also give a temporary mood boost. Gambling is another unhealthy way people try to cope with anxiety and depression. Betting on events has increased 60% since COVID on some betting sites. Organizations like GAMCARE are there to help when the urges become strong. Pay attention to why you are spending money. If you are using it regularly to cope, it is time to find a healthier alternative.
Education and Awareness Are a Year-Round Need
Recent years have shown an increase in the amount of education and awareness brought to mental health issues. This has opened up the conversation for many people who would not seek help out of fear from ridicule or that “stiff upper lip” mentality. This is an ongoing and continual process. Organisations’ wellbeing programs have gone beyond being a perk and are now considered vital, as part of a healthy working environment. Continued development in this area helps build understanding for when people need consideration and support. As this support goes beyond awareness days and becomes part of our culture, the mental and physical health of our world improves.
If you or someone you know needs support, please reach out. Help is there.
It’s ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ and in lockdown, we are spending a lot of time thinking about food (at least I am) since we have to constantly provide it for our families. So I asked our expert speaker on nutrition, Tracey Bennett to explain how what we eat impacts on our mental health………
Nutrition has been sorely neglected as a factor in the development of mental health. The brain like any other organ needs the right balance of nutrients in order to function properly. A 30% rise in teenage depression over the last decade has been linked to too much salt from fast food and not enough potassium from fruit and vegetables.
The problem is that fast food tastes good and that combination of sugar and fat is highly addictive. That temporary high is quickly followed by an energy slump which leaves you wanting more. The more that you eat it the more you need to get the same amount of pleasure. Additionally, too much sugar has been linked to reducing the protein (BDNF) which has been associated with increased anxiety.
These foods kill the healthy bacteria in your gut which is thought to play a really important role in your mental health; serotonin which helps to regulate sleep, appetite and mood is largely produced in the gut.
Any processed foods high in fat, salt and sugar have a similar effect on your gut bacteria as well as artificial sweeteners found in so many so called ‘healthy’ foods.
A poor diet can lead to a range of nutritional deficiencies that can affect your well-being. A recent study in the UK showed that 92% of teenagers and 77% of adults were most at risk of an Omega 3 deficiency. This essential fatty acid, found primarily in oily fish, has a protective effect against depression, concentration and memory problems.
It is not easy to ensure that you get the right balance of nutrients and often the problem can be what we eat between meals. Not buying those unhealthy snacks that are difficult to ration is probably the best option as it can take up to a month to re-educate your taste buds.
Try replacing them with healthy snacks that not only reduce stress but increase well-being:
Pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc which aids depression, magnesium to reduce stress and helps to create serotonin.
Blueberries are bursting with antioxidants and packed with vitamin C which helps to relieve stress.
Try putting your blueberries in a natural yogurt. They build up your healthy bacteria and have been found to have a positive effect on brain health. A study found that not only do yoghurts reduce social anxiety in some teenagers but they also increase happiness.
Natural popcorn is a tasty source of whole grains that is high in fibre which helps to relieve stress and anxiety.
Avocadoes contain choline which gives you a double boost of serotonin and dopamine.
Walnuts have countless benefits such as improving mood, regulating the appetite and boosting brain function.
When you do fancy something sweet, dark chocolate is rich in magnesium. Dipping fruit such as bananas or strawberries in melted dark chocolate will help to reduce stress.
Undoubtedly, what we eat affects how we feel and a healthy balanced diet can be a powerful aid for people dealing with depression and anxiety. But the converse is also true as our emotions can dictate what we eat. For many of us there is an internal struggle between the healthy foods that we know we should be eating and those tempting foods that we would like to be eating. When we are feeling low, or stressed or bored we can often turn to food for a bit of a boost. This kind of emotional overeating can also take a toll on our mental health as it doesn’t give us the comfort that we need and we end up feeling even worse. Left untreated, emotional eating can lead to weight gain, low self-esteem and eating disorders.
Ways of Overcoming Emotional Eating and Improving Mental Health
Talk about your feelings:
With a friend or family member, or if you prefer write them down. Emotional eating is often a distraction to stop you thinking unpleasant thoughts but you end up swallowing your feelings rather than dealing with them.
Keep a mood diary:
This will help to identify any kind of emotional eating and will give you an opportunity to develop some strategies for dealing with it. For example, if stress is your trigger have some activities in mind for when this might happen such as engaging in meditation and other relaxation techniques.
Exercise boosts our endorphins and makes us feel good. It also reduces the stress hormone cortisol leading to a reduction in depression, anxiety and insomnia.
Limit your exposure to social media:
Social media can distort your attitude to body image and make you feel bad about yourself and much more likely to comfort eat.
Every time you have a negative thought about yourself, try using simple affirmations to encourage yourself such as ‘it is the inner person that counts’ or ‘I can do anything’. They have been shown to positively rewire the brain and enhance your mood.
Doing something for someone else will definitely help you to feel better about yourself.
Using these strategies alongside a healthy balanced diet is not necessarily a panacea for all types of mental health issues as your first step may be getting help from a doctor. Nevertheless, in conjunction with any other medical advice, they will help to boost the improvements.
Of course we serve as essential role models for our children, so they will be influenced by how we eat.
Tracey Bennett delivers a very popular session on Healthy Eating Matters: How to instil healthy eating habits in our children.