Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the first week of May is Children’s Mental Health Awareness week.  You’ve probably heard about the crisis in mental health, and children’s mental health.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) one in five adults in the United States lives with a mental illness.  According to the CDC, over one in three high school students have experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.  When we take into consideration the impact of school closures due to the pandemic, sharp divisions in our country regarding the handling of the pandemic, parental anxiety regarding finances, managing distance learning, and social isolation, not to mention the normal stressors associated with growing up, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that we have a problem in our country.  And even as pandemic measures lift, we are faced with political and idealogical divides, the war in Ukraine, and rapidly rising inflation.

Of course you know all that already, and the question is what do we do about it?  I wish I had an easy answer, but I don’t, but I do have some suggestions:

  • “Put your oxygen mask on before you put your child’s mask on.”  Seriously, if you are struggling, look into psychotherapy, and if necessary assessment for medication.  Children don’t always do as you tell them to, but they hear and see everything, and absorb your own anxiety.
  • Maintain structure in your life.  Chaos breeds anxiety.  Regular bedtimes and wake times (for children and parents) can help to develop a rhythm that helps you feel more in control of life.
  • Maintain social supports.  I realize this is easier said than done, but reach out to family and friends, text, call, go out, go to church, get involved in your community.
  • Eat healthy.  Again, this may seem obvious, but foods that are bad for your physical health are also bad for your mental health.  Avoid refined carbohydrates, sugar, and eat more protein and healthy fats.  Also drink lots of water!
  • Move it!  Again, physical activity is not only good for physical health, but for mental health as well!
  • Pray.  There are so many studies to support the positive impact of prayer and religiosity on mental and physical health, yet for some reason, we don’t talk about this much in the medical community.  If you don’t believe in God, or have your doubts, develop a spiritual life.
  • Quiet.  Find time for quiet, even if it’s just five minutes.  There are constant demands on us, and sometimes we just need to slow down.
  • Accept that it’s okay to not be okay all the time.  I know I feel like I need to do things perfectly: perfect physician, perfect mother, perfect daughter, perfect wife, but I’m very far from perfect.  Realize that your value is not in some unattainable ideal, not in getting everything right, but in your dignity as a human person.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1700.

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