World Suicide Prevention Day: Emotional Awareness, A Kind Environment Can Help Children Understand Mental Health Better
Fostering Mental Health in Children
The Covid-crisis has increased the instance of anxiety and depression four-fold across the world. These challenging times have highlighted the importance of mental health.
Even before the pandemic hit, mental health impacted over 10 per cent of the global population across their lifetime, and more than 20 per cent of adolescents and children had mental health concerns.
Over 90 per cent of school children are confined at home for the past six months due to the pandemic.
Now, more than ever, children need to build skills to cope with stressors. And, parents play an important role in helping nurture skills of resilience.
On World Suicide Prevention Day, Dr Rajesh Parikh, MD, Director Medical Research & Hon. Neuropsychiatrist at Jaslok Hoapital & Research Centre, Mumbai, shares ways in which parents can help.
The first step to improving mental well-being is learning to recognise one's emotions. Expanding a child’s emotional vocabulary helps them identify what they are feeling and express themselves better. Awareness of emotions is not only limited to labelling them, but also identifying how they feel in the body and what thoughts and behaviours are attached to them.
Mental illness may result from biological, genetic or psychological stress. Educating children about the nature of mental illness, helps reduce stigma and increases empathy. It also equips them to identify negative emotions within themselves and others.
Promoting Mental Wellness
Mental health isn’t merely about a life free of illness but a life which is meaningfully engaged in activities and relationships. It doesn’t necessitate that children are always happy. Instead it focuses on being comfortable in emotions they experience and building skills to cope with stressors.
Coping Skills And Building Resilience
Protecting children from challenges does not make them resilient. Research from 20 studies has shown that when children have been taught how to address faulty thinking and develop problem solving skills, negotiation and relaxation, they have lower levels of anxiety and depression.
A safe and nurturing environment encourages children to express feelings and desires. Creating a home environment which allows for failures and provides opportunities to learn fosters self-esteem and resilience.
Modelling Mental Wellbeing
Research consistently indicates that children model their parent’s behaviours. As parents, it is important to be congruent in what is said and one’s behaviour. Learning from observation is the best ways behaviours are retained.
A study in the American Journal of Public Health found that children as young as 5 years, when taught skills such as regulating their emotions were successful at work in adulthood and less prone to mental illnesses. Adults have a vital role in fostering children’s mental health.