Focus Areas

Mental health: Part of the bigger wellness picture

MAY IS MENTAL HEALTH MONTH

Since 1949, Mental Health America and its affiliates across the country have led the observance of May is Mental Health Month by reaching millions of people through the media, local events and screenings. They welcome other organizations to join them in spreading the word that mental health is something everyone should care about by using the May is Mental Health Month toolkit materials and conducting awareness activities.

Learn more and download a Toolkit for your PTA.

LETS TALK ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH

We all experience emotional ups and downs from time to time caused by events in our lives. Mental health conditions go beyond these emotional reactions and become something longer lasting. They are medical conditions that cause changes in how we think and feel and in our mood. They are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing.

With proper treatment, people can realize their full potential, cope with the stresses of life, work productively and meaningfully contribute to the world. Without mental health we cannot be fully healthy.

A healthy lifestyle can help to prevent the onset or worsening of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, as well as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other chronic health problems. It can also play a big role in helping people recover from these conditions. Taking good care of your body is part of the key to maintaining good mental health.

Getting the appropriate amount of exercise can help control weight, improve mental health, and help you live longer and healthier. Recent research is also connecting your nutrition and gut health with your mental health. Sleep also plays a critical role in all aspects of our life and overall health. Getting a good night’s sleep is important to having enough physical and mental energy to take on daily responsibilities. And we all know that stress can have a huge impact on all aspects of our health, so it’s important to take time to focus on stress-reducing activities like meditation or yoga.

Understanding Mental Health

POSITIVE MENTAL HEALTH EQUALS POSITIVE SCHOOL OUTCOMES

There’s emerging evidence that positive mental health is associated with improved overall health outcomes, and that social-emotional and behavioral health in young children is an important component of school readiness.

But research also shows that mental illnesses and disorders — especially depressive disorders — are strongly related to the occurrence, successful treatment and course of many chronic diseases including diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and obesity and many risk behaviors for chronic disease like physical inactivity, smoking, excessive drinking and insufficient sleep.

In the medical and public-health arenas, more emphasis and resources have been devoted to screening, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illness than mental health. Little has been done to protect the mental health of those free of mental illness. We need to do more to help people of all ages strengthen their mental health.

CHILDREN’S MENTAL HEALTH matters

We know what it takes to keep a child physically healthy — nutritious food, exercise, immunizations — but the basics for good mental health aren’t always as clear. The first “basic” is to know that children’s mental health matters.  We need to treat a child’s mental health just like we do their physical health, by giving it thought and attention and, when needed, professional help.

Although there can be a genetic or biological component to mental illness, many children live in unsafe environments that put them “at-risk” of developing mental health problems. According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office, there are social determinants of mental health that need to be in place for our children: adequate housing, safe neighborhoods, equitable jobs and wages, quality education and equity in access to quality health care.

The consequences of mental illness may often be prevented through early intervention. At the very least, it is possible to delay mental illness and/or lessen symptoms. The best way to promote children’s mental health is to build up their strengths, help to “protect” them from risks and give them tools to succeed in life.

Promoting a child’s mental health means helping a child feel secure, relate well with others and foster their growth at home and at school. We do this by helping to build a child’s confidence and competence — the foundation of strong self-esteem. This can be achieved by providing a child with a safe and secure home; warmth and love; respect; caring and trusting relationships with family, friends, and adults in the community; opportunities to talk about experiences and feelings; time to play, learn, and succeed; encouragement and praise; and consistent and fair expectations with clear consequences for misbehavior.

If there is concern that a child may be experiencing a mental health problem, it is important for adults to seek help from a doctor or mental health professional. Just like with physical illness, treating mental health problems early may help to prevent a more serious illness from developing in the future.

Consider consulting a professional if a child you know:

  • Feels very sad, hopeless or irritable
  • Feels overly anxious or worried
  • Is scared and fearful; has frequent nightmares
  • Is excessively angry
  • Uses alcohol or drugs
  • Avoids people; wants to be alone all of the time
  • Hears voices or sees things that aren’t there
  • Can’t concentrate, sit still, or focus attention
  • Needs to wash, clean things, or perform certain rituals many times a day
  • Talks about suicide or death
  • Hurts other people or animals; or damages property
  • Has major changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Loses interest in friends or things usually enjoyed
  • Falls behind in school or earns lower grades.

WHAT PARENTS CAN DO

  • Care for your children’s mental health just as you do for their physical health
  • Pay attention to warning signs, and if you’re concerned there might be a problem seek professional help
  • Let your children know that everyone experiences pain, fear, sadness, worry, and anger and that these emotions are a normal part of life; encourage them to talk about their concerns and to express their emotions
  • Be a role model — talk about your own feelings, apologize, don’t express anger with violence, and use active problem-solving skills
  • Encourage your children’s talents and skills, while also accepting their limitations. Celebrate your children’s accomplishments
  • Give your children opportunities to learn and grow, including being involved in their school and community and with other caring adults and friends
  • Think of “discipline” as a form of teaching, rather than as physical punishment; set clear expectations and be consistent and fair with consequences for misbehavior; make sure to acknowledge both positive and negative behaviors.

Mental disorders in children are treatable. Early identification, diagnosis and treatment help children reach their full potential and improve the family dynamic.Children’s mental health matters! To learn more, talk to a doctor, mental health professional.

WHAT TEACHERS CAN DO

  • Think about mental health as an important component of a child being “ready to learn;” if a child is experiencing mental health problems, he or she will likely have trouble focusing in school
  • Know the warning signs of mental illness and take note of these in your students and seek consultation from the school mental health professional when you have concerns; psychological and/or educational testing may be necessary
  • Use the mental health professional(s) at your school as resources for: preventive interventions with students, including social skills training; education for teachers and students on mental health, crisis counseling for teachers and students following a traumatic event, and classroom management skills training for teachers
  • Allow your students to discuss troubling events at school or in the community; encourage students to verbally describe their emotions.

From: Mental Health America — Children’s Mental Health Matters Fact Sheet

ADVOCACY MATTERS FOR MENTAL HEALTH

Our more than 800,000 California PTA members are dedicated to expanding mental-health supports and services for our kids. Get the latest mental-health news through our email alerts, and stay in touch your local PTA for the latest information on mental-health services and supports at your school.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES