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Mental Health Tools Every Parent Needs

If indeed it does take a village to raise a child, we as a community should be very concerned with the findings of the most recent California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) given to all fifth, seventh, ninth, and eleventh graders in California.  The findings of this survey have revealed that the children in Tuolumne County are struggling with serious mental health issues that, if not dealt with, could lead to more dangerous and painful issues.

There has been a great deal of news coverage on the decline of mental health nationally, and unfortunately, Tuolumne County has not escaped this trend.  According to the CHKS, one in four fifth graders are sad most or all the time, and one in five ninth graders have considered suicide in the past year.

These statistics should be a wake-up call to all of us in the community.  If one in every four fifth graders that you encounter are chronically sad, then those same fifth graders will soon be ninth graders that think suicide could be an option unless something changes for them.  While everyone has days that they feel sadder than others, too many of our local children are feeling hopeless most, or all, of the time. This chronic sadness is a silent epidemic that can also manifest into drug and alcohol addiction, dangerous behaviors, depression, and a general decline in the mental health of our youth.

As the adults in our community, we play a major role in youth mental health.  This role can often be a positive one, but unfortunately, it can also be extremely negative.  Statistically, our students use drugs and alcohol at a higher rate than the state average, and the same is true of the adults in our community.  The fact that our children are struggling with the same substances and issues as the adults can come as no surprise to us.

If we are seeing high rates of chronic sadness in our youth, it stands to reason that the adults of our community are also feeling hopeless. Children learn from the world around them, and will most often mirror what they see.

This decline in mental health has already had a tremendous impact on our schools, families, and community.  Schools are meeting the needs of student mental health on campuses across the county by employing more counselors and coordinating with outside agencies.  Wellness centers have also been created on school sites to provide early intervention and a place for students to get more support.  Schools have also integrated suicide prevention training, as well as other mental health programs for students and staff.

Some community members have already taken notice of the fact that our youth are struggling.  In response, they have created an event series called Not My Kid. These events are for parents, grandparents and community members that are interested in supporting their own kids, as well as the children of our community by learning skills to support their mental health.  Each session has different speakers and break-out sessions to attend.  The next Not My Kid event is April 10th.  More information can be found at the website: www.notmykid.life

While our local schools and members of the community are working hard to provide a positive environment, there are things that we can be doing as parents, grandparents, and community members on a daily basis. The first and most important step that we can take is to seek professional counseling for any child in our lives that is struggling with mental health issues.  Keeping our kids as healthy mentally, as we do physically, is our responsibility as parents and caregivers.  Reaching out to private counselors or therapists, or your child’s school is how we can make that happen.

Individually, we can be helping our youth daily by making sure that our own mental health is stable.  Seeking counseling, and taking our own steps to get healthier mentally and physically can change the environment of those around us.

Aside from getting any outside help if we need it, the following five strategies are simple but effective ways that we can positively impact those around us by improving our own mindset:

Practice gratitude.  Practicing gratitude is one of the most powerful tools to promote better mental health.  Looking for the good things in our lives has the power to rewire our brains, and make us less cynical and critical.  An easy way to increase our gratitude is to look for three things each day to be grateful for, and write them down.  Encouraging our kids to do the same will have a similar effect on their gratitude.

Engage in positive relationships.  An 85-year study through Harvard University has concluded that positive relationships are the most important practice for happiness.  Children learn this from the adults in their lives. Showing students how to get along with others will help them to form good relationships, make new friendships, keep old friendships, and mend broken relationships through forgiveness.

Be present.  We live in a hurried culture of busyness and multitasking that constantly tears us away from being present in the moment.  We often focus on the past, or on what we need to do in the future, instead of what is right in front of us.  Our children need our attention and support to be able to combat depression and anxiety that can arise from the stresses they encounter daily.  Saying no to extra activities, putting down our phones, and focusing on the moment is important.  Make sure to make eye-contact with the people around you, especially your children, and take time to listen.

Practice kindness.  Research has shown that doing acts of kindness for others leads to greater happiness.  Not only does this make our community a better place, but it models kindness for our children.  Look for ways to show kindness.  It could be as easy as saying hello to a stranger or opening a door for someone.

Stay on the move.  Physical activity plays a crucial role in mental health.  Engaging in regular exercise releases endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that boost mood and reduce stress.  It can include a sport, or a regular exercise routine, but can be as simple as a walk around your neighborhood, or playing a game with your kids.  Modeling regular physical activity is an important example for your kids.

There are no easy answers for the youth mental health crisis, but these practices can contribute to better mental health for both adults and children. While these are beneficial practices, please reach out for help if you or a child in your life is struggling with mental health. Also, please consider attending the Not My Kid event to learn how to better support the youth in our community.

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