Last year the school community was asked to consider their ideas about mental health. What does this term mean for you? Many of us began with a deficit model, but quickly saw mental health is really about mental fitness and wellbeing. Like physical health, mental health is something we all have and it can range from good to poor and can change over time. Good mental health helps us form positive relationships with others, handle ups and downs, and generally enjoy life. With good mental health, children can feel confident and be more open to trying and learning new things.
Recently Sue Jackson and myself attended the Component Four Workshop conducted by KidsMatter on mental health difficulties and children. What do we mean by mental health difficulties? Professor Ann Sanson from Melbourne University puts it this way:
“Working out whether something is a difficulty is a matter of seeing how it is interfering with a child’s life…their relationships, their learning.”
Research shows that between 20-30% percent of students will experience some mental health difficulties over the period of their school life for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps they are struggling with a friendship, schoolwork, a situation at home, or some unhelpful ideas about themselves or others. This means they are not operating at their optimum in terms of academic learning, maintaining positive relationships and feeling satisfied. Does it mean there is something wrong with them? Of course not, but it may mean they need a little support.
What would you do if you, or one of your family members were physically ill? You would do something to help; insist on rest, consider diet, or seek help from a doctor or therapist. Likewise we need to address mental health difficulties in the same robust manner. Perhaps routines need to be changed to encourage more sleep, perhaps diet could be considered, or perhaps seeking professional counselling support for your child may be a good option.
To take advantage of this last option we sometimes need to overcome our deeply ingrained deficit model regarding mental health issues. Many of us see seeking help as a weakness, or worse, that it’s an indication there’s something wrong with me. Recently a friend said to me, “I never thought I’d need a mental health plan!” She’d been feeling stressed and anxious about aspects of her life and was finally accessing some support. We both realized her comment indicated she saw seeking support as weak, stemming from a deficit model. To think this way is deep, really sub-conscious and requires CONSCIOUS challenging.
I thought about this a lot over the break and came to the conclusion that actually we all need a mental health plan. A plan for ensuring we can manage the ups and downs life throws at us, that we can bounce back, or have the courage to seek professional support when we find that really difficult. So spread the word and remove the stigma. Mental health plans rock!
Here’s my personal Ten-point Mental Health Plan:
1. Spend at least half an hour a day doing something I love
2. Listen more, talk less (yep, there’s a challenge)
3. Eat well
4. Drink more water (lowers cortisol, a stress hormone)
5. Challenge negative thoughts and ideas about myself, or others (got to catch them first so…)
6. Be more mindful, especially when eating
7. Practise conscious gratitude every day
8. Move a bit more (I really don’t want to say the word exercise)
9. Seek professional support regarding sleep difficulties
10. Talk to someone useful when overwhelmed
Lee Jellis - Wellbeing Coordinator