Mental Health Awareness Month Reflection by Stacey Billups, LMSW

May is Mental Health Awareness Month; it is a good time to focus on our emotional, social, and psychological well-being for ourselves and for our children. As a parent and a mental health provider, I have seen first-hand the impact that stress and not taking proper care of ourselves can have on children, teens, and parents.
Here are just a few stats on the harmful impacts of poor mental health care:
20-25% of adolescents experience a depressive disorder before finishing high school. (Kashani & Orvaschel, 1990)
Higher prevalence of depression in girls (Abela & Hankin, 2011)
Mental health disorders increase the potential for substance abuse, poor school attendance, violence against self and others, and risky behaviors.(Albano, Chorpita, & Bartlow, 2003;
Crocetti, Klimstra, Keijers, Hale & Meesus, 2009; Hammon & Randolph,2003)

In recent years, there has been a gradual shift in the mental health field towards a more holistic approach. We are looking at the person as a whole being and incorporating more non-traditional
forms of therapy into our work.

Previously, therapists focused on helping clients build their self-esteem, which is a person’s sense of their own value of worth. In US culture, high self-esteem is associated with feeling special or above average. Unfortunately, this approach proves problematic for many reasons, including feeling the need to compare ourselves to others and encouraging a “ bullying culture” to build ourselves up; we have to put others down, which encourages prejudices, and it is contingent on our successes. Therapists are now focusing more on helping clients develop self-compassion.
Only recently has there been a focus on positive psychology and its impact on the mental health of children and adolescents.
What is Self-Compassion?
“Being open to and moved by one’s own suffering, experiencing feelings of caring and kindness towards oneself, taking an understanding, non-judgmental attitude towards one’s own inadequacies
and failures, recognizing that one’s own experience is part of the human experience. (Neff, 2003) Self-compassion is providing yourself with care when faced with personal obstacles, challenges,
failures, or inadequacies.

Core components of self-compassion:
Treating ourselves with kindness versus hard self-judgment
Common humanity… how I am the same as others
Recognizing that to be human is to be imperfect
Mindfulness….being in the present moment, being accepting of what is
Benefits of practicing self-compassion:
Compared to harsh self-criticism, which actually undermines motivation by seeing ourselves as the problem, we attack ourselves, which Increases stress and releases the stress hormone cortisol,
which can lead to mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety.
Self-compassion practices encourage feelings of safety and nurturing and increase the release of oxytocin and opiates (feel-good hormones)

There are various ways that we practice self-compassion:
Comforting yourself
Soothing yourself
Validating yourself
Protecting yourself
Providing for yourself
Motivating yourself
Self-care is one of the primary ways one can demonstrate self-compassion. Benefits include: a sense of personal control, the pursuit of meaningful tasks, healthy lifestyle choices, and healthy

Practicing Self-Compassion through Self-Care includes:
Allowing yourself to rest and taking a break when needed.
Creating a safe space to relax and recharge.
Connecting with others, sharing our thoughts, feelings, and opinions, listening, and demonstrating empathy.
Taking care of your physical needs (sleep, hygiene, exercise, healthy eating)
Following a routine or daily schedule; helps keep us grounded. Eases anxiety.
Setting goals that are achievable and keeping track of your accomplishments
Setting daily intentions
Keeping a gratitude journal or writing words of gratitude on a piece of paper daily.
Parenting with Compassionate and Reflective Communication
Compassion is when you relate to someone’s situation and want to help them. You see someone in trouble, and you want to jump in. It differs from empathy because it involves relating to someone and creating a desire to help. Compassionate Communication involves:
Observing a situation without judgment
Reflecting on the emotions of those involved in the situation
Connecting these emotions to the underlying needs of the people involved in the situation.
Making a clear request of the other person.
Reflective Communication involves:
Reflect on a mistake, a poor choice, or a behavior.
Identify how you may have caused hurt.
Offer to make amends.
As we begin to practice self-compassion more often as parents, we are simultaneously modeling what it looks like for our kids. You can also intentionally point out moments where you are practicing self-compassion so that your kids understand how it looks in different situations. Having conversations that are rooted in compassionate and reflective communication can be challenging, but the rewards are great. Everyone wins because everyone involved gets to feel heard without being judged, and there’s an opportunity to express one’s needs and make clear requests. Teaching self-compassion is an important part of teaching children about emotional intelligence. It promotes a nonjudgmental, forgiving, loving acceptance of self and others, ultimately leading to healthier well-being.