Home Mental Health & Well-Being Supporting Children’s Mental Health During the School Holidays

Supporting Children’s Mental Health During the School Holidays

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Across all indices, we are seeing signs that our kids, teens, and young adults are suffering and their well-being needs aren’t being met. So, during the Easter school holidays, make the time to invest in your children’s mental health. Here, mental health expert Noel McDermott looks at how families can improve their internal emotional resources and prioritise health strategies to repair and heal.

Mental health expert Noel McDermott comments: “Currently, all indications are that kids’ mental health is significantly worse, with school absences rising, hospital admissions going up for serious issues such as eating disorders and self-harm, young adults disproportionately off sick from the workforce, and child and adolescent mental health (CMHT) services swamped and unable to cope. There are many factors involved in this but in straightforward terms, there have been a series of back-to-back unprecedented existential crises for the UK and the world since 2016. These real-world stresses exist at a time when the ‘village that helps raise a child’ in modern UK (our health, educational, social care, and mental health infrastructure) has been ground down via austerity, cost of living, and inflation issues”.

There are many things you, as a family, can do:

  • Lifestyle medicine: Ensure you have the four corners of health and well-being in place
  • Exercise or active life: The single biggest health improvement you can make is to have regular exercise as a family, ideally three times a week for 20 minutes. Raising your heartbeat is what you want to aim for anymore and that’s a bonus!
  • Stress management: Relaxation and stress management are crucial to physical and psychological health. Stress is implicated in all major lifestyle illnesses and every manifestation of psychological distress. Learning to spot and reduce stress reactions is central to living a healthy life.
  • Diet: Having a healthy, balanced diet contributes massively to a healthy mind and body. When preparing family meals, try to reduce processed foods, eat a mix of 80–20 vegetables and fruit to meat, control portion size, and reduce sugar.
  • Sleep: Good sleep hygiene is essential to healthy living. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture due to the psychological consequences of missing REM sleep cycles. So, work together to practice good hygiene in your sleep habits: don’t drink stimulants at night, exercise, have a simple and regular bedtime routine, reduce blue screen activity at night and don’t use your phones in bed.
  • “DOSE” yourself up: Dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins are reward hormones that promote health and well-being, and engaging in activities that promote these will make life much more pleasant and rewarding. Some of these hormones you will get from the lifestyle medicine suggestions; endorphins come from exercise for example but using the “DOSE” mnemonic, you can get more bang for your buck. For example, if you start running together as a family, you will get plenty of endorphins; if you add running outside, you will get extra serotonin hormones for free. So, learning your “DOSE” activities really can pay off hugely.
  • Organise and agitate: Now that we are approaching a general election, it’s your time to get your children’s mental health on the agenda. Organise your networks to write to the relevant politicians standing for election to pledge to invest in the village we need for our kids. Civil society organisations have been demonstrated for a long time to have a positive disruptive influence on health indicators, and getting involved with them will be a positive contribution to helping shape the health and care agenda.

Here are some evidence-based tips that work to help with health and well-being

  • Get educated; psychological education is vital and the UK has a huge set of resources from NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence). If you want to know about a condition, don’t randomly google, search via NICE e.g., NICE guidance on children and depression.
  • Learn CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), as it was designed to be used by laypeople and is a set of techniques, tools, and behaviours that manage and prevent psychological distress. MIND has some great signposts here or you can buy Mind Over Mood, which is a central workbook full of loads of practical exercises.
  • Learn MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy) Jon Kabbat-Zim is the go-to person here and you should also follow the advice above. NICE advises it for less severe depression for example. MIND has some great resources.

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