"Anything that's human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary." - Fred Rogers.
Mental health is part of the human experience. As much as we have grown over the years in this area of science, we are still lacking the ability to speak up and support the simple idea that, it is okay to not be okay. Mental illness is often seen as a taboo topic, in a way that most would never view other health hazards and conditions. Shining light on this imbalance and shifting the perspective can help promote acceptance and healing.
When you are diagnosed with heart disease and the doctor prescribes you medication, you probably take it. You aren't likely to be embarrassed when you are picking up that medication at the pharmacy and may even mention your new health development to friends and family. Unfortunately, the same is not often true of mental health diagnosis or treatment.
The brains inability to produce the correct levels of a chemical, causing a patient to suffer from depression, for example, is no different than the pancreases' inability to regulate insulin, resulting in diabetes. So, why is it such a sigma to discuss the depression and completely mainstream to address the diabetes?
This kind of mentality is harmful to the culture at large, but even more so to our youth. When a parent or caregiver is struggling with a mental health challenge it can have many adverse effects on the children in care, especially if left untreated.
A strong connection exists between parental mental illness and lifetime mental health risks for their children. Parental mental illness has a great impact on the functioning of a family unit and poses a risk to the children's healthy development. Children are said to be resilient and able to bounce back from adversity and challenges. This is a misconception most of the time as the effects of the trauma presented to a child coping with a parental mental health illness cannot always be seen immediately. Many children in this situation will later present difficulties with schooling and struggle to make appropriate choices in social situations. Studies show an increase in criminal activity, substance abuse and early death in these children as well. Add this to the research suggesting the risk for mental health issues of their own doubles and there is no argument that something needs to be done.
This kind of imprinting is also relevant in the arena of chronic stress. While the stress of being a parent may not be diagnosed by a healthcare professional, it can be addressed and treated by the individual who is struggling. The first step to addressing any of the challenges mentioned above it to admit and accept that the challenge exists. Our behaviors as adults and caregivers are modeled, whether or not we want them to be, for better or for worse. We have the power to change our situation and in turn alter the world for our children. How impactful would it be to change this narrative and provide productive coping skills to our children simply by putting them into practice ourselves?
Practicing yoga, mindfulness and meditation has been proven to help reduce stress levels and improve overall health. The combination of deep breathing and certain postures can help counteract the stress response in the body. The blood circulation to the organs increases and digestion is re-stimulated, both of which further reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety and stress. We have our breath with us all of the time, instilling a regular practice to use it for the improvement of our mental well-being is an irreplaceable gift!
Imagine taking a pause, a few times in your day to breathe. Maybe you begin to notice you are able to stay present in the moment and as a result you feel less anxious, more focused and calmer. Then, maybe you share this practice with the youth in your life. Explaining the benefits that have come with this simple addition to each day. Letting them know why this is important to them, how it will be impactful now and as they mature. This self-care practice can be expanded by adding a short set of yoga poses to the morning and/or bedtime routine. Doing this can also be beneficial for optimum focus and concentration during the day as well as improved sleep at night.
Implementing these habits will take time. Give yourself grace. Remember that each action step you take to address the quality of mental health will be observed and modeled by the youth in your life. Teach children the way in which you want them to go from the youngest age possible and they will embody it. They are sponges, soaking up life in a way that is life giving itself.
Not sure where to get started? There are many resources available to introduce breathwork techniques that appeal to children and will be beneficial to any and all ages, on the foundation website. Under the resources tab you can also find mindful movement practices for the entire family. Visit www.psfound.org to give it a try.
Side note: While the American Psychological Association (APA) has made the practice of yoga an important part of care to cope with mental health illnesses, seeking treatment from a medical professional is also recommended.