Healthy Families, Healthy Homes
Mental health is an integral part of overall wellbeing for children. Like adults, the mental health of children is not static; it is a continuum where one can be in a state of optimal mental health, poor mental health or somewhere in between. At such pivotal and influential ages, there are numerous factors that can support children in developing mental health benefits across their lifespan.
Additionally, it can be distressing as a parent to know your child struggles with mental health issues, and is likely to impact yourself and your family. It can be even more challenging to know how to help them. As a family, you play a crucial role in developing one another’s positive mental health. It is also imperative you care for yourself as being a carer of someone with poor mental health. The dynamic of family and support plays a crucial role in your child’s emotional development.
Supporting the Individual
Prevention and early intervention are vital in improving emotional and social wellbeing in children. Early intervention can reduce risk factors of mental illness as they journey into adolescence and adulthood. Additionally, the barriers people may face in reaching out for early intervention support include concerns about the stigma associated with mental illness, the use of medications, and the cost or logistical challenges of treatment might prevent parents from seeking care for a child who has a suspected mental illness.
Furthermore, as children develop they will go through a whirlwind of emotions or concerns. If you’re worried, don’t be afraid of having a conversation before reaching out for professional support. However, if they aren’t ready to talk through things, it is ok. Although, if they do disclose feelings or share things that don’t seem ‘ok’, take them seriously, get professional support.
Some of the signs that your child might be experiencing poor mental health, and need intervention include:
- Reports from teachers, friends, family members, carers
- Changes in behaviour, sleeping or eating, or performance at school
- Avoiding people or social situations they used to enjoy
- More emotional than usual (anger, worry, sadness and crying)
- Lacking energy or motivation to do everyday tasks
- Drug and alcohol use
- Feeling hopeless about the future
Familiarising yourself with the options available to best support a child with mental health may help reduce the barriers and increase likelihood of early intervention.
Supports specifically available for helping children include:
- GP or paediatrician to discuss specific referrals and treatment options. Collect and share with the GP all information related to behaviours of concern that you’ve noticed or discussed with teachers, close friends relatives and other caregivers.
- Psychologists, to provide mental health support. Headspace is available for young people aged 12-25 years.
- School counsellors
- Kids helpline counsellors available to talk to your child 24/7
- Parentline provides free telephone counselling and support for parents and carers with children aged 0-18 years
Moreover, building your personal and professional support network by reaching out to friends, family and others is essential. Also you do not need to go through this alone whether you are experiencing mental health concerns yourself or caring for someone who is.
Supporting the Family
An important aspect of maintaining a mentally healthy household is engaging in effective family conflict management. Healthy conflict styles can be essential to teach resilience, coping with change, and communication skills, to children. No matter what, this is something that every family face’s or will face.
Effective ways to manage conflict can be achieved by:
- Modelling appropriate behaviour
- Being assertive rather than aggressive
- Developing effective conflict management skills
Some habits to practice regularly to best develop a healthy household, and support positive mental health outcomes for children include:
- Make your relationship a priority
- Communicate effectively
- Work together as a family
- Provide support for each other