Having A Healthy Family When Mental Health Issues are on the Rise
We live in a world where 20% of Canadians will be challenged by a mental health issue at some point in their lifetime. Most Canadians are also indirectly affected by having either family members or friends that struggle. Canadian youth are one of the groups the most effected by this reality (CMHA http://www.cmha.ca/media/fast-facts-about-mental-illness/). How do we keep our young families healthy in this environment? How can families be a preventative tool to buffer its members from experiencing Anxiety and Depression?
It is important to first start with strengthening the foundation of your family and keeping it strong. The foundation of a family is only as strong as the person (single parents) or committed/marital relationship that heads it. Therefore, if you are a single parent you need to put your mental health and wellness first. If you are a couple with a young family your relationship needs to get consistent, regular maintenance. I know this may be shocking to those of you who strongly believe putting the kids first is paramount, but this simply does hold up in research looking at children’s mental health and wellness. If the foundation of a family is strong the children, and later adults, are healthy and contributing people, with high self esteem.
So I challenge single parents to have a self-care plan in their lives that is a priority. Please don’t put yourself aside for months at a time. For you married couples it is important to put time aside for connecting with each other, including date nights. Get babysitters! They are worth it! The attitude that you will focus on your marriage after the children get older, tends to leave couples disconnected, depressed and less able to support each other in problem-solving.
I want to leave you with a few tips on creating and maintaining a healthy family.
• Create an environment of “no secrets” in your family. Have an open dialog where your children can talk about their feelings and feel heard.
• Remember that your family is only as healthy as every single member. If a family member is struggling (ex. Acting out, isolating) they are the teacher or emotional barometer in your family. Support them to figure out what is wrong. Address it.
• Youth need to feel connected to their families. Even though they may resist this in teenage culture. Do things together. Stay connected.
• Every family member needs to feel useful and important. Give tasks to every member at an appropriate developmental level.
• Make decisions and enforce them. If your children question you, explain your decisions in a developmentally appropriate way.
• Expect and insist on respect.
As a Psychotherapist I have a dream. I wish our culture would be committed to more open dialog on mental health and difficult feelings. We are all struggling and it would enable more support. Use these tips to start creating this culture within your family.