When It Comes To Mental Health, Lead By Example

The internet’s positive response to a Michigan-based web developer’s email to her team letting them know she was taking two days off to tend to her mental health was refreshing, surprising and sad. Refreshing because of the woman’s honesty and her CEO’s support, surprising because it went viral so quickly, and sad because the response reflected just how infrequent open and supportive conversation about mental health occurs.

The web developer inadvertently found herself leading by example. As parents, we can take a cue from her and demonstrate the importance of mental health through our own behavior and choices. Jennifer Hartstein in a US News and World Report article shares, “While mental health issues are not new, only recently has acceptance of these issues grown. It’s because of the stigma that still surrounds mental illness that this was so widely discussed.”

Adults like us might choose to use our sick days to focus on mental health. However, young people aren’t generally advised to do so, even when they might need a day off. Hartstein shares that taking a mental health day could help improve focus, performance and possibly overall mental well-being. Adolescence is hard – some might argue more so than adulthood – so if taking a mental health day benefits an adult, why wouldn’t it also benefit a child?

Mental Health Days Help

Hartstein continues, noting that a mental health day needs to be about re-energizing and focusing on relaxing and regrouping. What that looks like for each person may be wholly unique. While you may need some self-focused time to give your mind a rest, your child may want to spend time with you or another family member to cope with their anxiety. If your child needs to sleep on and off all day, that’s fine; you may have opted for that before, too.

While mental health days are important, so is learning to manage stress long-term. The following examples, shared in Hartstein’s article, are ways parents can model positive stress-management choices to help their children learn to be more resilient.

  • Do things you love outside of work, and encourage your kids to do things they love outside of school. Finding opportunities to do things they enjoy and be with friends and family will boost your spirits and theirs, and you’ll both be better equipped to manage challenges.
  • Take care of your physical health, and teach your children how to do the same. Parents should stress the importance of getting regular exercise, and do so themselves to lead by example. Also, work as a family to eat healthy. Food can have a negative impact on your mood, so try to incorporate positive choices. When kids don’t feel well physically that will impact how they feel mentally.
  • Talk about mental health. Encourage kids to talk about their concerns. Validate that feeling anxious and sad is a typical part of life. Be available to them when they need to talk about how they are feeling, and when appropriate, share your feelings as well.
  • Set limits for yourself and your child so neither of you feels overextended. Kids don’t know how to do this themselves, and parents struggle themselves sometimes. If you notice that you or your child is doing too much, talk about how to cut back and find downtime.
  • Take time off as a family. It needn’t be a huge amount of time. For example, you might make sure the house is quiet for a few hours and focus on self-care, or go out for dinner on a school night to simply enjoy each other’s company and a change of pace.

Allowing yourself or your child a mental health day doesn’t mean either of you is fragile or lazy. We all need mental health days. When we are managing the day-to-day ins and outs of life, a little down time might be just what we need.

For hope and healing,
Mike Hannan

  • Clarity Child Guidance Center is the only nonprofit mental health treatment center for kids ages 3 to 17 in South Texas. Our staff of children’s mental health professionals is the largest in the region. When a child is in crisis, we work with families to get much needed treatment regardless of their ability to pay.

The opinions, representations and statements made within this guest article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of One in Five Minds or Clarity Child Guidance Center. Any copyright remains with the author and any liability with regard to infringement of intellectual property rights remain with them. One in Five Minds and Clarity Child Guidance Center accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.

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I want to support the kids at clarity!