10 October 2019: World Mental Health Day
When you care for yourself, you care for your kids!
The best intervention when caring for the mental health of children and young people is, taking a proactive approach to your own mental health and wellbeing. Research suggests this will mean taking care of your physical, psychological and spiritual self. Doing so will see the children you support develop skills to guard against mental ill health themselves.
Mental Health and Infants
Many years ago we thought infants were ‘too young’ to be impacted by trauma and therefore their mental health and wellbeing would not be affected by the stress that is often associated with adverse childhood experiences.
We now, thank goodness, understand that infants are very susceptible to changing environments that are stressful and unpredictable.
If you have an infant in your care here are some things to consider;
1) Keep the child’s routine predictable and consistent.
2) In the first few months of your care resist the temptation to have many other people cuddling the child, as we so often want to do… babies need to develop a primary care relationship and it can be stressful when they feel passed around.
3) Signs of elevated stress can include; increased irritability, change in eating and sleeping patterns and uncontrollable or unexplained crying.
4) Be aware of your own feelings when the infant is dysregulated. How you respond may determine whether the infant feels safe with you or not.
5) Understand that an infant can feel anxious and scared when the world is changing around them.
From our followers:
Jane: don’t use mobile phones whilst an infant is in your arms, it’s vital for their development to see facial expressions.
Sarah: swaddling the baby at nap time really helped our little guy.
Rosemary Anne: eye contact – be there for them in the moment and let them feel your love and connection in the way that you look at them, touch them and talk to them.
Mental Health and Adolescents
A new joint report by Mission Australia and Black Dog Institute (see our resources page) indicates that considerably more young people in Australia are experiencing psychological distress than seven years ago.
Almost one in four young people in 2018 say they are experiencing mental health challenges, with young females twice as likely as males to face this issue. A higher proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people also met the criteria for psychological distress than their non-Indigenous peers.
Why is this so? What has changed in the past 7 years? Could it be the influence of social media? Increase in family disruptions?
Whatever it is we need to think about what to do, or this will have a devastating effect on adolescents growing into adulthood.
Good mental health can influence everything from engaging in healthy relationships, making good choices around drug and alcohol use, holding down a job or completing study.
If you have a young person in your care who suffers from poor mental health be aware the road back can take time, it won’t happen overnight. The reason this is important to understand is that as adults we can feel powerless to intervene and this powerlessness can translate into frustration adding fuel rather than water to the ‘fire’.
Consider the following if you are an adult:
1) Stay calm and in your thinking mind
2) Look for early warning signs of mental ill-health e.g. change in eating, sleeping and study/working habits
3) Seek professional intervention early, your GP is a good start if you are stuck, or consider the various HELPLINES: https://www.mhc.wa.gov.au/getting-help/helplines
4) Check-in with the young person regularly
5) Support the young person to create a list of ‘go-to’ people who they feel safe with and let those people know they are on the list
6) Role model healthy behaviours yourself this can influence young people to follow suit
7) Be available to spend time with the young person and remember, sometimes you don’t have to do or say anything, you just need to be there even if no one is saying anything don’t be afraid of the silence
From our followers:
Margot: Share with young people how beautiful the world/nature is. Role model staying off phones/devices.
- Love as mutual respect.
- Create opportunities for the brain to produce oxytocin ie. out in nature and/or with animals.
- Understand the behaviours you are seeing are an automatic fast response and therefore see the emotion rather than trying to reason and work with cognitive part of the brain.
- Create opportunities to be part of something bigger than self.
We would like to say a huge thankyou to all our wonderful contributors who had some great suggestions. Is there anything else that you think could help contribute to the wellbeing of infants, children, young people, carers and workers?
The ACT Team