when it comes to mental health, lead by example
The internet’s positive response to a Michigan-based web developer’s email to her team letting them know she was taking two days off to tend to her mental health was refreshing, surprising and sad. Refreshing because of the woman’s honesty and her CEO’s support, surprising because it went viral so quickly, and sad because the response reflected just how infrequent open and supportive conversation about mental health occurs.
The web developer inadvertently found herself leading by example. As parents, we can take a cue from her and demonstrate the importance of mental health through our own behavior and choices. Jennifer Hartstein in a US News and World Report article shares, “While mental health issues are not new, only recently has acceptance of these issues grown. It's because of the stigma that still surrounds mental illness that this was so widely discussed.”
Adults like us might choose to use our sick days to focus on mental health. However, young people aren’t generally advised to do so, even when they might need a day off. Hartstein shares that taking a mental health day could help improve focus, performance and possibly overall mental well-being. Adolescence is hard – some might argue more so than adulthood – so if taking a mental health day benefits an adult, why wouldn’t it also benefit a child?
Mental Health Days Help
Hartstein continues, noting that a mental health day needs to be about re-energizing and focusing on relaxing and regrouping. What that looks like for each person may be wholly unique. While you may need some self-focused time to give your mind a rest, your child may want to spend time with you or another family member to cope with their anxiety. If your child needs to sleep on and off all day, that’s fine; you may have opted for that before, too.
While mental health days are important, so is learning to manage stress long-term. The following examples, shared in Hartstein’s article, are ways parents can model positive stress-management choices to help their children learn to be more resilient.
- Do things you love outside of work, and encourage your kids to do things they love outside of school. Finding opportunities to do things they enjoy and be with friends and family will boost your spirits and theirs, and you’ll both be better equipped to manage challenges.
- Take care of your physical health, and teach your children how to do the same. Parents should stress the importance of getting regular exercise, and do so themselves to lead by example. Also, work as a family to eat healthy. Food can have a negative impact on your mood, so try to incorporate positive choices. When kids don't feel well physically that will impact how they feel mentally.
- Talk about mental health. Encourage kids to talk about their concerns. Validate that feeling anxious and sad is a typical part of life. Be available to them when they need to talk about how they are feeling, and when appropriate, share your feelings as well.
- Set limits for yourself and your child so neither of you feels overextended. Kids don’t know how to do this themselves, and parents struggle themselves sometimes. If you notice that you or your child is doing too much, talk about how to cut back and find downtime.
- Take time off as a family. It needn't be a huge amount of time. For example, you might make sure the house is quiet for a few hours and focus on self-care, or go out for dinner on a school night to simply enjoy each other’s company and a change of pace.
Allowing yourself or your child a mental health day doesn’t mean either of you is fragile or lazy. We all need mental health days. When we are managing the day-to-day ins and outs of life, a little down time might be just what we need.
For hope and healing,
As the director of communications for Clarity Child Guidance Center, Mike shares the insights of children’s mental health experts, both inside and outside of Clarity CGC, who work with families looking for answers about their children’s mental health.
If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 9-1-1. If you need help locating mental health resources in your area, visit the Bexar County Community Resource website, call your local health department or the National Alliance Mental Illness's helpline at 800-950- NAMI (6264).