I read in the Guardian on Monday yet another shocking headline: “UK students waiting up to three months for mental health care”. If you read my articles regularly you will know that I am passionate about mental health. These articles have the focus of parenting, but in my opinion when any member of the family suffers a mental ill health that requires support, all the family members suffer. We, as families are a unit, a mini organisation just like the workplace. One member of a family in distress, natural impacts on all members of the family.

Back in November 2018, The Guardian reported the latest survey revealing figures for 2017. “One in eight people aged under 19 in England have a mental health disorder, ……. And rose to one in six for people aged 17 to 19”.

This reminded me of hearing on the radio many years ago that children as young as five were reporting that they ‘did not like’ their body. And sure enough further down in the article in 2018 the following lines: “The NHS Digital survey, published on Thursday (Nov 2018) but carried out last year, also included pre-school children for the first time, among whom the prevalence of mental health disorders was found to be one in 18.”

One in eighteen Preschool children diagnosed with mental health disorders. Whole families going through the stress of helping their youngest children to cope with the world. For many parents the arrival of a child is a symbol of hope, happiness and the occasional ‘normal’ family ups and downs, but certainly if asked, most would not say anything about expectations of dealing with mental ill health. So what can be done?

I am currently attending a training course to be able to offer a certain type of therapy called ACT. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. It has been around for over 20 years, but I have only just discovered how much this type of therapy ‘fits’ with my philosophical beliefs and draws together my studying of psychology and coaching and mentoring. The first day very much felt like putting on ‘an old glove’, I am in my element, as they say. But yesterday I was reminded of the shift towards negativity and non-normality of mental health struggles, the traditional western psychological route to helping people. ACT refuses to collude and simply says life IS difficult, we all struggle, and I particularly enjoyed the slide saying:

“Human suffering is ubiquitous and normal. Human suffering is not a disease”

I have long held the view that the word itself – dis-ease – is best understood as movement away from ‘ease’. In my mindfulness classes I use the word ‘ease’ a lot! Our bodies and minds are at their best when whatever we do is carried out with relative ease. That’s not to say we shouldn’t push ourselves, challenge ourselves, but we learn to become aware of the direction of the dis-ease and if we have chosen to embrace the direction of that movement.

Back to parenting then, how can we as parents aid the well-being of all family members, including our own self- care? I like the learning aids that mention five ways of wellbeing:
Perhaps if we reflect on an average day as a family and check in to see if we have embraced all five ways, if not each day, then at least in a week. We are fully functioning, active human beings and this ‘helping hand’ represents everyone’s ability to embrace life to the full, even with illness, disabilities or physical restrictions. The website above has a little video to help illustrate the five factors. They seem pretty obvious but it is sad to reflect that many of us simply don’t check we cover them regularly enough.

Connection: encourage our children gently aware for virtual reality to meeting new friends; seeing others who cope with their suffering and are making the most of life. Connecting with grandparents and other family members. One simple connection exercise is to sit down on a chair at a table and draw out or list all the people connected with the table itself – for example, the designer; the carpenter/steel or glass maker; the person or people who cut down the tree and made the wood planks, their parents, who connected to make them! The transport staff; the people working in fuel plants to allow the delivery, the list goes on…..

Be active: simply jumping up and down on the spot, a family dance off, or the more formal bike rides; football etc – the body was designed to move, so move it!

Keep learning – at any age we can learn from each other, the internet; go to formal classes, encourage a lifelong learning attitude.

Give – to others – a hug, a hand hold, money, time and talents. The human brain thrives on the reward centre that spikes when we give.

Notice – as you sit now reading this article, stop, look around and spot something you had not noticed before, even if it is an ant; listen for sounds or even explore how it feels to be alive at the moment – heartbeat, breathing rate etc. This level of noticing brings great joy in the present moment.

None of us are to ‘blame’ for mental ill health, but following these simple guidelines can help us all to enjoy life more fully – engaging with our children at many different levels and helping them to pass on these traditions to their own children.

Family fitness at its best bringing mental wealth to all!

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