The talk at school today was on Communication and Mental Health by Natasha Devon. It was the first time I’ve heard her speak and she is an excellent speaker. I highly recommend hearing her talk if you ever get the chance to. I really wish I’d gone in with a tape recorder because she didn’t really have a lot of information on her slides. Everything was in her head and she knew her stuff really well. These are the salient points, I managed to get down from the talk…
Mental Health vs Physical Health
It’s easier to talk about physical health because it’s tangible. We can do tests and record measurements to assess our fitness levels. When our physical health is compromised, getting help for it is very straightforward. To maintain our physical health, we know we have to keep working on it. We don’t go to the gym once and then say, “That’s it – I’m fit now.” It is an ongoing, lifelong process.
Mental health is more challenging to work on because we can’t see it. Even if we’re conscious of it, sometimes we’re not sure if what we’re feeling is normal. What do we do to maintain mental health? At what point do we need to seek professional assistance for it? It probably doesn’t help that there is still a stigma about mental health despite all the efforts to break it.
Like physical health, maintaining mental health is an ongoing process. Just as we have to exercise regularly to maintain physical health, there are things we should practice daily to stay mentally healthy. Unfortunately, because mental health is invisible, we often do nothing about it until there is a problem. We need to shift the focus toward prevention.
If we exercise for physical fitness, what do we do for mental fitness?
- Physical activity, like sports and exercise.
- Creative activities, such as art or music.
- Relaxation activities, like meditation.
The recommendation is that we should all have at least one activity from each of these three categories.
The Transfer of Emotional Energy
The Law of Conservation of Energy
Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another.Lumen
Emotions carry a lot of energy. Often, the way we deal with our negative emotions is to suppress it. Since energy cannot be destroyed, it ends up being released in another form, for instance, through a breakdown. The best way to manage these strong emotions is to convert the energy constructively. We can do this by using the activities listed above for maintaining mental fitness.
Talking about Mental Health
The other thing we can do for our mental health is to talk about it. Unfortunately, there are a few challenges here:
- Because of the stigma associated with mental illness, many people still avoid admitting to having difficulties.
- We mistake stoicism for mental strength. We think that being mentally strong is not having to talk about our emotions. This is not true. Human beings are tribal – we were not built to survive alone, we are stronger when we are together.
- The English language is lacking when it comes to describing emotions. Not having the words to describe how we feel can limit our ability to communicate the state of our mental health.
It was interesting to note that girls have a larger emotional vocabulary compared to boys of the same age. However, researchers found that this is not because boys didn’t know the words. They could recognise the emotions in their mothers and sisters, but they never used them to describe themselves. This is because they have been taught they aren’t allowed to feel certain emotions.
How do we change this? We need role models for boys who show them that they are allowed to feel all these emotions, too.
Changing Perceptions on Talking about Mental Health
There is a stigma about mental health and we are trying to break it, but we need to do it the right way. Natasha Devon explained this so eloquently that I’m not sure I will do it justice. However, I will try… this was the example she used:
Girls are most affected by comments about their beauty. If you wanted to undermind her confidence, all you have to do is tell that her she’s ugly. To overcome this, we often try to tell girls that beauty doesn’t matter. This doesn’t work because it DOES matter to her. The better message to communicate is that everyone is beautiful in their own way.
Beauty is just a perception that we are taught as we grow up. We can see this by observing the differing perceptions of beauty around the world. For example, if you look at the beauty products in Australia, they often contain an underlying “tanning ” element. In Australia, being tanned is beautiful. In Asia, the beauty products all contain an underlying “whitening” element. That’s because over here, being fair-skinned is considered beautiful.
When it comes to mental health, the stigma we need to break is the idea that being silent is strong. We need to teach children that it is strong and clever to talk about their mental health problems with someone – this is the true strength.
How Do We Talk About It?
- Have quick conversations every day.
- Ask open questions.
- Go for a walk so there is no eye contact (or in the car when you’re driving). Sometimes this helps them to open up.
- Ask them to rate their mood from 1 to 13 (because if you give a person a range from 1 to 10, they almost always say 7). If the score is very low, ask them what needs to happen tomorrow for the number to become higher.
- Use pictures – what is your mood today? Select the picture that most describes your mood. By doing this on a daily basis, kids learn that moods change and what they’re feeling is transitory.
- Have third-person discussions with teenagers – use a book or a movie to provide examples so it doesn’t feel targetted at them.
- Helping them find solutions to their problems – ask them what they would like to happen.
- Instead of giving external compliments – e.g. what they’ve achieved, what they have (I like your shoes), or what they look like (I like your hair); focus on intrinsic compliments – e.g. you’re funny, kind, etc. External compliments can be taken away, but internal compliments stay with them.
We often treat resilience like it is something we can just be if we just simply decide to be it. The truth is that in order to be resilient, we need to be well supported. This is like building mental toughness – we need to flourish before we can express mental toughness. If we’re tired, hungry, or feeling alone, where will the resilience come from?
Supporting Resilience: the 5 Psychological Needs
We can support resilience by helping our children meet their five psychological needs:
- To be Understood
Thomas Curran on Imperfection
I didn’t quite catch the last part on Thomas Curran so I looked it up and found this video – it’s his perspective on perfectionism and how it is affecting our mental health as a society. I think it’s an important one to watch given how obsessed we are with always showing our best face on social media. Think about the people who post a picture on instagram and remove it if it doesn’t receive “x” number of likes.
Many users will delete photos that do not get “enough” likes. Many studies have been conducted on the culture surrounding social media and the unhealthy obsession with “likes” and comparison to others online.Forbes
More from Natasha Devon
The importance of self-esteem has been stated to the point of losing all meaning, yet it’s essential to every human being’s development and happiness. In what can be an incredibly toxic and frightening modern culture, young people, in particular, are struggling to gain some vestige of self-esteem and are subsequently battling myriad mental and physical health issues. For parents, teachers, and caregivers who want to help but don’t know what they can do, there is Fundamentals—a self-help book for people who are fed up with patronizing self-help books. This guide will give you pragmatic, relevant advice on how to nurture self-esteem and discuss and deal with mental health issues, delivered with positivity, humor, and realism. Although touching on specific issues such as self-harm, eating disorders, and anxiety, this is more generally geared towards instilling confidence and promoting a positive state of mind.
- Mental Toughness and Resilience
- Mindfulness Resources for Families
- Helping Children Manage Anxiety
- Let’s Talk About Growing Up by Wellcast
- Adrenarche – Pre-pubescent Problems with Boys