Improving our Children’s Mental Health – Intentionally

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It’s May.  So, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s take stock of our children’s current mental health and well-being.

Some sobering statistics:

  • Nearly two-thirds of youth report feeling stressed about balancing their daily activities
  • Almost half report feeling anxious, sad, or irritable due to stress
  • One of every three teens in America report feeling chronically tired and overwhelmed by stress

During the past decade:

  • There’s been a nearly 30% increase in disabling anxiety disorders in children
  • Teen depression has shot up over 60%
  • Youth suicide rates have jumped up over 50% (now the second leading cause of death for teens)

May Day, indeed!  What the hell is going on?  And more importantly, what the heck do we do about?

First, we take it seriously.  We often say that our children are what’s most important in our lives.  And no doubt, in those moments of honest reflection, we mean it.  Yet, how well are we walking the walk, not just talking the talk?

What can we do, how can we live in ways that will serve our children best – while not just adding the weight of more anxiety and stress on ourselves?

We’ve often talked about the vicious cycle of toxic stress in our lives.  We know that chronic stress repeatedly activates the “fight or flight” stress reactions in our nervous system.  This leads us to be more tense and emotionally reactive, rather than calm and thoughtfully responsive.  – Which compounds our stress, which perpetuates the cycle.

As our lives go, so go the lives of our children.  Children learn what they live (thank you Dorothy Nolte!).  The more we race around, worrying and fighting and fatiguing in the face of daily demands, the more we suffer.  And the more our children suffer. Anxiety, depression, aggression.  Sometimes substance abuse, domestic abuse, child abuse.

Enough of dwelling on the problem.  Let’s turn our attention, on purpose, towards the solution.

Therein lies the first positive possibility for moving from stress-filled lives and mental illness towards mental health and well-being.

We can choose, intentionally, what we focus on.  What we do.   How we will be amidst the challenges.

We can set our intentions, right here in this moment, to be aligned with our deepest values and highest aspirations.  We can reset our attention to focus on what really matters.

We can re-commit, in any moment, to be still.  To be kind.  To be caring.  To let go. To persevere.  To accept the responsibility to make a small difference, right now, as best we can, with the time and energy we have available.  And to accept the limitations of time and energy that we have available right now!

This isn’t giving up.  This is putting down our end of the rope in our constant tug of war with reality – straining and striving to wish it weren’t so.  It is what it is.  This is here right now.  And this is what I can do about.  And this is what I can’t do about it right now.

SO, I pause.  I breathe.  I reset my intentions.  This is what really matters, what is true in my heart.  From that place of wisdom and compassion, I allow an intention to surface.

Perhaps that intention is… to be clearly focused on meeting the challenge at hand; to be at ease with whatever arises; to remember that I care about this person more than this behavior; to be kind to myself and others; to forgive myself and allow myself to start over.

We can always PAUSE and reset our intentions.  Try it, right now!

Pause.  Notice your intention in this moment. Re-orient your attention to what you care about.  Refocus, purposefully, on one positive step you can take right now that will help you through today – or that will help your child through this day.

Maybe that step is simply to reconnect with some healing intention, even if you don’t know exactly what to do practically right now. Maybe that step is to wait for clarity to come to you.

Mindfulness begins with intentional attention, focused on the present moment. Cultivating this careful and caring attention, regularly walking the walk, can lead to greater mental health.

The alternative – being lost in worries about an unpredictable future or regrets about an unchangeable past – feeds moments of mental illness and suffering.

By consciously turning towards our best intentions, we can begin to change the current of emotional wellness in our lives and our children’s lives.  Where attention goes, energy flows.

Let us choose wisely, then, where we intend to go.