5 Best Practices to Support Positive Mental Health for Kids and Teens

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By Dee Marie

These tips are not just for kids, but for adults too!

1.Eat Healthy

Kids who eat healthier have better Mental Health according to a 2 year study examining the diets of 3,000 adolescents between 11-18 years of age published in PLOS ONE journal. A Diet rich in organic fruits & vegetables, along with most food intake being prepared at home vs at a restaurant, is helpful for mental health and long-term wellbeing.

2.Vitamins

Look for fish oil supplements containing DHA & EPA.  These Omega-3s are vitally important for Children’s and Teen’s brains. Omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to reduce aggressive behavior, depression, anxiety, and antisocial mannerisms according to a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania. Magnesium comes in kid friendly forms such as powders and gummies. It helps promote relaxation, combating stress-related symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, and all sleep issues. Herbal teas such as chamomile, lavender, and lemon balm are also safe and effective to calm the over-stimulated nervous system.

3.Decrease Screen Time

We all have to be on the screen, and it is not going away, but the pandemic has increased everyone’s time on the computer, TV, cell phone, and video games. Too much affects students’ mental health. 4-5 hours per day is plenty. Since 2018, 40,000 kids have been evaluated for mental wellness. Those students on the screen over 7 hours per day have been seen more frequently for mental and behavioral health issues by psychologists.

4.Exercise & Yoga: Indoors and Outdoors

There’s nothing like the great outdoors – breathing deeply and enjoying nature. According to the National Recreation and Park Association, children today spend less time outdoors than any other generation. For the past five years, CALMING KIDS has interviewed their students regarding positive shifts in behavior and quality of life. The CK teens between the ages of 13-18 report that walks outside can help them come into balance and increase their mental health on a daily basis. Yoga stretching and deep breathing is their next choice for decreasing anxiety.

5.Feeling Our Emotions!

This is such a simple and important part of the mental health picture. Let kids and teens know it is OK to feel sad, frustrated, angry, silly, disappointed… A parent or teacher role model for this is very beneficial.

Now that our masks are off, a hug per day or a little extra attention paid to the next generation will go a long way in positive mental wellness.

Dee Marie on The Third Place Podcast

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Listen to a great interview with Mary Allard & David Gaines from The Third Place Podcast and Dee Marie from Calming Kids discussing how to help families come into balance using classical yoga strategies during the COVID-19 quarantine.  Available here or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Conversations & Consciousness about Teenage Depression & Suicide

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A parent listens as her teen talks about his feelings.

Depression and suicide are not easy topics for me to talk about, but I’m hoping that sharing at least part of my family’s story can help those who are struggling.  Several years ago, my family experienced a series of traumatic events.  Those events left myself experiencing clinical anxiety that evolved into depression, and left one of my children facing clinical depression and multiple attempts at suicide.  Out of an abundance of respect for his privacy, I will not share the details of those events or the resulting impact.  (The photo above is also not of that teen.)  What I will share are some tips that are from a combination of what I’ve learned through seeking treatment and support for him and myself, as well as information from the Child Mind Institute.

An Ongoing Crisis

The problem of depression and suicide in youth is not a new phenomenon.  Suicide rates among youth aged 10-27 have increased dramatically since 2007, with some studies showing as much as a 60% increase.  According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in 2007 the suicide rate for this age group was 6.8 per 100,000.  By 2018 that number had increased to 10.7 per 100,000.  

Of course we all want to know why, but the truth is there isn’t much data to solidly confirm the causes.  Some people indicate an increase in social media use as the cause, but not all countries with an increase in social media use have seen suicide increases.  Currently, one factor that many experts see as a cause for concern is the pandemic.  While there have been no wide-spread studies on the effects of the pandemic on mental health in youth, there have been CDC surveys and anecdotal reports from doctors supporting the concern.  Add to the pandemic a list of other contributing factors such as racial and economic injustice and inequity, a struggling economy, and a healthcare system that often does not provide enough mental health support, and we have a perfect storm for the crisis we’re facing.  

What Can We Do?

With all this dire news, what can we do as adults to support each other and the youths in our lives?  The first thing we need to do is to be aware of signs of depression and warning signs of suicidal thoughts and ideations.  Warning signs for each, according to The Child Mind Institute, and tips on what to do can be found below.  

Signs of Depression

  • Unusual sadness or irritability, persisting even when circumstances change
  • Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Reduced feelings of anticipation
  • Changes in weight
  • Shifts in sleep patterns
  • Sluggishness
  • Harsh self-assessment (“I’m ugly. I’m no good. I’ll never make friends.”)
  • Feelings of worthlessness/ hopelessness
  • Thoughts of or attempts at suicide

(Miller, 2021, para. 6)

What to Do:

  • Take note of these symptoms, their severity and frequency.
  • If symptoms are impacting quality of life, or if they continue for two weeks or more, seek help.
  • If the person is suicidal seek help immediately.

 

Signs a Teen or Young Adult May be Suicidal

  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Problems eating or sleeping
  • Mood swings
  • Reckless behavior
  • Dropping grades
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Giving away belongings
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or trapped
  • Talking about being a burden to others or not belonging
  • Talking about suicide or wanting to die
  • Writing or drawing about suicide, or acting it out in play

(Ehmke, 2021, para. 3)

What to Do:

  • Ask the person if they are thinking about suicide.  Some people avoid this because they fear it will make the person think more about attempting suicide.  Research shows this is not true.  I can attest to this.  Asking my son if he is thinking about suicide has literally saved his life more than once.
  • If a person is actively attempting suicide call 911 immediately.
  • If the person is experiencing suicidal thoughts or ideations call for support:
    • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255  
    • In Boulder County Colorado call 1-844-493-TALK or text TALK to 38255.                          This will get you in touch with Boulder County Mental Health Partner’s 24/7 Crisis Line.

Educate Yourself

The rate of suicide and depression among young people in the United States has hit a crisis level.  Educating yourself about how to recognize and seek help for both is a good place to start for changing that.  Of course, there are other steps we can take.  Be sure to see our next CALMING KIDS Blog and Newsletter for mainstream and mindful solutions that can help build resilience and help ease feelings of depression.  

 

Sources:

Miller, C. (n.d.) Signs of Depression During the Pandemic. Child Mind Institute, Inc.  Retrieved February 23, 2021 from https://childmind.org/article/signs-of-depression-during-coronavirus-crisis/

Ehmke, R. (n.d.) Signs a Child Might Be Suicidal. Child Mind Institute, Inc.  Retrieved February 23, 2021 from https://childmind.org/article/signs-a-child-might-be-suicidal/

Dastagir, A. (2020, September 11) More young people are dying by suicide, and experts aren’t sure why. USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2020/09/11/youth-suicide-rate-increases-cdc-report-finds/3463549001/

Dastagir, A. (2020, August 13). The pandemic is taking a toll on Americans’ mental health. A new CDC study shows who we need to worry about most. USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2020/08/13/covid-19-takes-mental-toll-youth-minorities-essential-workers/3365719001/

Ayurveda & Yoga Podcast

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Join Dee Marie on The Third Place podcast as she discusses “The Principles of Yoga Therapy to Find Peace in the Family Unit”.  

Dee Marie (Founder of CALMING KIDS) will discuss Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga.  As a result, you’ll learn how understanding its principles can help increase compassion and balance in the family unit.  Hear how to decrease the negative effects of spending more time at home.  Use yoga and Ayurveda to reduce tension from spending time in front of the computer.  Get insight into peacefully addressing differences in opinions and more.  Visit The Third Place website to learn more about the podcast hosted by Mary Allard and David Gaines.

Mudra for Overcoming Anxiety

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An Easy Hand Movement to Overcome Anxiety

Jazz hands or silent cheer?  Whatever you call it, this simple hand movement can help to reduce anxiety and increase an overall feeling of calm. 

 

Has anyone else out there dealt with anxiety?  I know I’m not alone.  “Just relax,” so many people say, but what those people don’t understand is that it’s not that easy.  Whether we experience anxiety due to a traumatic event or the ongoing stresses of daily modern life, relaxing doesn’t always happen automatically.  Learning how our body’s nervous system works and ways to help it function properly can really help.  

 

A short biology lesson

Think back to high school biology.  Remember learning about the nervous system?  Me neither, so let me recap in an overly-simplified way.  Humans have a complex nervous system that’s explained as several different systems.  One part of the nervous system, the autonomic nervous system, supplies nerves to our internal organs.  The autonomic nervous system is further explained by breaking it down into the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system.  

The parasympathetic nervous system is the one that we operate (or are supposed to operate) on throughout the majority of our day.  It’s the part of the nervous system that supports the body in daily functions, recovery and maintenance.  The sympathetic nervous system activates in times of perceived threat.  Remember fight, flight or freeze?  When we experience a perceived threat, the sympathetic nervous system sends signals to our organs that then cause our heart rate to increase, our digestion to slow down, our pupils to dilate and our breathing to increase.  It also causes our adrenal glands to release more adrenaline and cortisol – “stress hormones”.  As long as the body perceives a threat, those stress hormones keep releasing in our bodies. 

In modern life, our bodies tend to experience a low level of threat perception frequently.  Difficult work situations, arguments at home, remembering you need to go grocery shopping, managing bills…we juggle a lot, and it all adds up.  The scars of any past traumas can add to this too.  

So what do we do when our bodies are “stuck” functioning in the sympathetic nervous system?  One thing we can do is to trick our bodies into thinking we are safe.  For some, experiencing rhythmic movement can help with this.  That’s where the hand mudra for overcoming anxiety comes in.

 

How to do it

  • Sit up or stand with an aligned spine
  • Raise arms while bending elbows, spread the fingers outward and pointing upward
  • Rotate wrists pivoting back and forth
  • Repeat taking long slow deep breaths
  • Do this when you feel anxious or nervous until you feel more centered 

If you’re having a hard time creating a mental image of this mudra you can think about jazz hands at ear level, but with a twisting motion as well.  Or just look at this Simon Cowell gif. 

 

Why it works

Doing this motion works in two ways.  First, it provides rhythmic sensory input.  Secondly, it draws our focus from in front of our eyes (where our bodies have adapted to focus on a threat) to our peripheral vision.  This takes the focus away from where we would be looking if there were a physical threat.  

 

Other benefits

This move has other benefits as well.  Try it to give your hands a break if you’ve been at a computer or driving for a while. Keeping the wrist channels open helps with the numbness and sometimes pain that occurs with frequent computer users (everyone these days!!) or when clenching the hands. It is referred to as “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.”  Do this wiggling of the hands and wrists daily as a preventative or for the cure. The twisting motion can help relieve tension in the tendons in your carpal tunnel.  It’s also a great way to have a large group of kids cheer without damaging your hearing. The “Silent Cheer” is used in sign language and frequently used in schools to keep children’s volume down. Give it a try!