Make mental health a part of your family conversations.

Lets face it, todays have it all culture is having an effect on our mental health.  The pressure to look a certain way, to have an amazing career, a spotless, show home house,  amazing holidays and basically have it all together every single day is at an all time high. Combine that with the endless array of filtered photos, status updates,  glossy magazine pictures and body transformations that we are exposed to on a daily basis, it is not surprising that we are left feeling less than perfect.

For my generation, this is a world we have been thrown into and many of us have embraced it with little thought for how it is affecting our daily mental health, let alone the mental health of our families.

Our compare culture has dented our confidence, increased self doubt and made us believe that who we are is not enough and without us even realising it these feelings are compounded everyday by the constant updates we scroll through on our phones. I know I do not speak for everyone here, these are my own feelings spilling out on the page. I was in a cycle of negative self talk, self doubt with feelings of inadequacy all hidden behind a retouched, filtered, smiley photo because I felt actually showing who I was and what I was doing was nowhere near meeting the impossible standards set by everything and everyone else I was seeing.

When I read the above paragraph back it is obvious to me that I do not want my children to feel that way, to me they have so much to offer and it would break my heart if they ever felt like they were not enough. However it is clear that the mental health of our children is deteriorating. From an early age our children are tested, labelled and put in boxes, the comparison culture already rearing its head, fast forward to teenage years where social media, gaming, reality TV and surgically enhanced celebrities take hold, all of these influences clouding judgement, heightening feelings of inadequacy and chipping away at self confidence which can contribute to poor mental health, something that will be carried forward into adulthood unless we do something about it.

So with both adults and children suffering what can we do? That is a question that has so many different answers, none of which will satisfy everyone, so I am just going to throw my thoughts into the ring! Remember To me, communication is key in making everyday mental health a priority for all. Talking, I think, is invaluable in helping us to navigate the complicated world of our emotions and general well being. Alongside that we also need to publicise we are talking about it, make it as normal as talking about the weather!

The name mental health does not help its cause in promoting itself to be something we all want to be involved in.  I think the word mental has had a pretty rough ride. What started as a word that makes perfect sense has been pulled in to slang culture and used in sentences that only teenagers understand! The dictionary describes the word mental as follows:

Mental –  relating to the mind, or involving the process of thinking

Makes perfect sense right, no negative connotations here.  However over the years it has become a slang term making us think all sorts of not nice things from the outset, crazy, out of control, nuts to name but a few, all make us associate it with something we want to keep away from.This slang term has become so popular that we have lost the original meaning of the word, basically the word mental is in the middle of a PR nightmare! I think it is time for a rebrand! Now I am no PR consultant, so any alternative suggestions would be most welcome, I am throwing in a few options, life health? Pretty all encompassing, we would all strive for good life health right? Or for the more scientific of you, how about brain health? Mmm a bit it too formal maybe, what about mind health? No negative associations there, ask yourself ‘How’s my mind health today?’

Disclaimer on the lack of creativity on the above, I would never get a job in an ad agency! You get the picture though right, we need to  take away the negative associations with mental health and make it something we all want to be a part of.

Mental health is something that often gets pushed to the back of the queue behind the next superfood, fad diet or fat burning workout. It is time to dust it off and make mental health as important as looking after your physical health with awareness of our own personal mental health becoming a daily habit and check in for all of us. In turn creating a community where mental health is the foundation and building block that cements everyone together. This sounds like a pretty tough task I realise but people’s attitudes towards mental health are slowly changing and it’s up to us to keep moving forward, to remove the stigma that so often comes when you mention mental health to anyone.  It’s time to realise that likes, shares and trending are no measure of your own personal value or self worth. Talking about mental health is a great way to do this – the more we share our own experiences and promote a healthy attitude to talking about how we feel, the easier it will be to break down the barriers that surround mental health. I know we can’t talk to everyone but we can start with our families. If we can equip our children with the tools to understand their own mental health whilst at the same time working on our own imagine how much stronger your family will be.

If you have read my previous blog, you know that we have started taking regular time outs as a family to discuss anything and everything, a time where no subject is off limits a place where we are all comfortable to be ourselves. Initially I started these as a way to build our confidence in each other but as we developed our conversations it has become more than that and made us think about our own mental health and emotions. These conversations have had a noticeable positive impact on all of us. Talking as a family is a simple way to improve your mental health awareness both as individuals and as a family group.  By creating a regular pattern of talking you are creating a culture of openness, empathy, support and emotional understanding – something that will spill out into all aspects of your life.

I am going to give you a snapshot of the mental health of my own family before and after we decided to take regular time outs together.

Introducing Sarah:

Before:A pro at blushing, overthinking and people pleasing.  Struggles with confidence, self worth, self doubt and worrying what other people think. Highly skilled at hiding feelings, keeping things a secret and sorting things out in her own head. No problem to small to think about, especially at 3.00am in the morning!

After:Still a pro at blushing, don’t tell her a rude joke! Now starting to take a deep breath and talk to people about what’s on her mind, although not at 3.00am in the morning! Improving sense of self worth and confidence that is revealing itself in a number of ways including moving out of her comfort zone, starting conversations and appreciating that people will think whatever they want anyway so may as well give them something to think about.

Introducing Lee:

Before: Ask him if something is wrong and he will always say ‘I’m fine’. Quiet and not much of a talker, prefers to brood over himself than bother others. A born worrier who likes to keep his feelings hidden, gets uncomfortable when dealing with the emotions of others.

After: Only occasionally says ‘I’m fine’ but now actually means he is fine when he says it. Starting to open up and discuss feelings, although he finds it slightly uncomfortable he is making great progress. Still worries too much but is sharing these worries more, making them smaller and stopping them from swimming round in his own head. Getting better at letting us know how he is feeling, especially at telling the kids he is proud of them!

Introducing Dominic:

Before: Shy and quiet, never the first one to speak. Struggles to give an opinion in case it is not the same as everyone else’s. Wants to be noticed but does not have the confidence to put himself out there so hides at the back instead. Cannot see the potential he has, in fact thinks of himself in negative terms only.

After: Coming out of his shell and starting to show his personality, joined a drama club and actually stood up in front of other people! Slowly realising that he has a lot to offer and it does not matter if it is not the same as everyone else! Taking part in conversations more, especially at home, turning into a proper comedian! Making good progress in believing in himself and adjusting his negative mindset – no mean feat for a teenager!

Introducing Erin

Before: Does not lack confidence, but has to be perfect in everything, makes no allowances for herself whatsoever and often gets frustrated and angry if she cannot do something straight away and will then constantly say she is rubbish at it if she comes across it again. Homework time has become pretty explosive, watch out for flying pens!

After: Is learning not to be so hard on herself, no one knows everything, not even mum!! Starting to pause and say a family affirmation to re frame her mindset when dealing with a problem or something she is struggling with, is accepting that it is OK to ask for help. Still gets frustrated but is starting to notice when this happens giving her a chance to re group. Pens are now remaining intact!

I realise, the before assessments above sounds harsh, however they are pretty accurate in how we were dealing with our own mental health before we started talking to each other. Please don’t remember us for the before, we honestly have loads of good points as a family too, ask anyone that knows us!!! (I feel like I should get some references now just to prove it!!) Anyway, the after assessments are also very accurate, we have all noticed positive changes in ourselves and more importantly, we are talking about it!  Now I am not saying we have turned into this model family, totally in tune with our mental health but we are moving in the right direction and are starting to make everyday mental health a priority in our family conversations giving us solid foundations to tackle any problems that may arise in the future.

Mental health is so personal to all of us that you may be reading this and thinking I am spouting a load of rubbish – I know there is no one size fits all when it comes to dealing with your mental health, however by making it a part of the conversation, you are increasing your own awareness, creating and strengthening support networks and giving yourself a platform to be able to understand and recognise the multitude of emotions we all experience everyday. I am not saying that having a conversation will make everything alright and prevent mental illness, but what I am saying is if you create a better sense of your own mental health and make it part of the everyday, it will be easier to spot if you develop a mental illness and it will go a long way in making asking for help and support from your friends and family a much easier process.

Why not try starting a conversation with your family today, ask how they are feeling and why, ask if they have any problems or worries and share any you may have of your own. Talk about what you love, what you are proud of, what you have seen on social media, what is real and what is not – no subject off limits – just see where the conversation takes you – make this a regular part of your week and you will notice a difference and believe me no conversation will be the same –  this small change can have a big impact on both you as adults and your children now and going forward. This is a chance to explore and make sense of your mental health as a family, giving you the tools to not only navigate through this instant, social media fueled world as a team, it will allow you to separate the fact from the fiction, improve your emotional understanding and communication skills and ultimately bring you closer together as a family.

Sounds a bit far fetched? Give it a try and see – I have and believe me, whilst we are still a work in progress, we are seeing changes in how we communicate, view ourselves and deal with problems. All of these changes started with us getting together and having a  conversation.

Take a time out –  Get your family together and make your chatter matter.

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