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Feeling Healthy: Inside and Out

To conclude her blog series marking Children’s Mental Health Week, Dr Fiona Pienaar shares new research findings about the impact of sleep on young people’s capacity to cope with worries – and offers some tips on how adults can model attitudes and behaviours that foster healthy bodies and minds.

As we come to the end of Children’s Mental Health Week, I want to draw attention to the theme that children’s charity, Place2Be, has been promoting this year: Taking steps to be Healthy: Inside and Out. This is the fifth year that the charity has led on Children’s Mental Health Week, and this time the focus has been on encouraging children, young people and adults to look after both their bodies and minds. We are being reminded that they are connected, and that even small things that we do to improve our physical wellbeing can help our mental wellbeing as well.

Across this week’s blogs, I have drawn your attention to the latest trends in children and young people’s mental health, put a spotlight on ensuring digital health in families, highlighted the benefits of engaging with the great outdoors and, most recently, encouraged readers not to lose sight of how important it is to ‘find time’.

This week, Place2Be also released new research based on information collected in a survey with 1,100 children aged 10-11 and 13-15 years old. The findings highlight that children who get less than the recommended nine hours sleep on school nights are more likely to struggle with their worries, with more than half (56 per cent) of the children surveyed revealing that they worry ‘all the time’ about at least one thing related to their school or home life or themselves. Of those who got less than the recommended nine hours sleep, 22 per cent said they ‘often don’t know what to do when they’re worried’, and ‘once they start worrying, they can’t stop’ (36 per cent).

For children and young people, whether they are healthy ‘inside and out’ is intrinsically linked to the support they receive and the opportunities they are given by the adults in their lives. In addition, and key to how children view health, and engage in behaviours and display attitudes that encourage good health, is the modelling they receive from the key adults in their lives during childhood and adolescence.

So… it is largely up to us, as adults, to lead the way. We can instil the attitudes and the values that will set them up for a lifetime of awareness of, and commitment to, looking after their bodies and their minds. To do this, we need to model how we:

  • Get sufficient sleep each night. Just as insufficient sleep impacts on children, often leaving them unable to cope, the same is true of adults. Lack of sleep also correlates strongly with mental illness
  • Ensure that we eat a balanced healthy diet (with occasional treats of course)
  • Indulge in daily exercise – walking, running, pilates, yoga, swimming… the options are endless
  • Spend time with friends and loved ones
  • Have alone time – this is an important one to model and teach children. I think it is a life skill that many adults struggle with. We may be fearful of being on our own, confusing the thought of being alone with being lonely

Adult mental health is strongly connected to children and young people’s mental health, and the potential influence we have over their future health trajectory is significant. In looking after our selves, inside and out, we help set the children and young people in our lives on a positive pathway.

I’m going to close this blog series by reminding you of the World Health Organisations’ definition of mental health, equally applicable to children, young people and adults:

Mental health is…

  • a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential
  • can cope with the normal stresses of life
  • can work productively and fruitfully
  • is able to make a contribution to her or his community

(WHO, 2014)

Developing Minds: Mental Health, Children & Young People Conference, with Dan Siegel, was held at the QE11 Centre in central London on Feb 8 2019. A digital recording of the conference can be purchased by clicking here.

#DevelopingMindsConference #ChildrensMentalHealthWeek

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Dr Fiona Pienaar

Fiona is Chief Clinical Officer for Mental Health Innovations (MHI) with responsibility for ensuring high standards of clinical direction and practice. Prior to her present role, Fiona was Director of Clinical Services at Place2Be. Fiona has a background of over 30 years of teaching and counselling in schools, counsellor education in higher education institutes, educational and mental health resource development, academic and clinical supervision, private practice and mental health consultation, research and writing. She has a PhD in Behavioural Science from the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, a MEd in Counselling, a Professional Certificate in Coaching (Henley Business School, England) and various other counselling, teaching and special needs qualifications.

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