Back to School & Mental Health
While back-to-school will mean something different for all of Georgians this year, we can do some things to support our families and each other as we navigate these changes. Roland Behm, Board of Directors with the Georgia Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, educates our viewers on ways to help protect you and your family’s mental health as we start the school year.
- Prioritize mental health (and health in general). Right now, the basic activities that we know support our mental health are more important than ever. Proactively make sure that, as we start the school year, you and your kids are getting regular sleep, exercise and spend time in nature when possible, and are limiting intake of news or other media that can be disturbing or stressful, especially to young children. Be mindful of what is on in the background throughout your day. Ask your children how they are feeling and make time to listen without judgment. Check in with yourself about how you are feeling, too.
- Be flexible when challenges arise. We will all be navigating new routines, adjusted start dates, changing circumstances and new requirements. It will take us time to adjust to these changes and we may have feelings about them. It’s okay if things don’t go as planned or as smoothly as you had hoped as we start the school year. We are all learning as we go, and learning what isn’t working is just as important as learning what does work for your family. I often say to my kids, “We are figuring this out together,” when new challenges arise.
- Keep scheduling family time and rituals. These can be shared meals (like Taco Tuesday in ours), walks, game time or weekly movie nights. Whatever the rituals are that you do regularly and plan around, they can help add a sense of structure and routine and give you time to connect as a family. Don’t have a ritual? Create one and stick to it (even if your kids grumble at first.)
- Avoid comparisons. Ultimately, what works for your family may not work for others, and vice-versa. Try to avoid comparing yourself to others, or how other families may be handling this time. Comparisons can lead you to feel you are not doing enough (or doing too much) when the benchmark should be doing what helps to keep you and your family well.
- Model healthy coping (and reaching out for help). Managing your own stress is vital to supporting those around you. Taking care of your own mental health will help to reinforce the messages that we can all take an active role in taking care of our mental health and that it is vital during times of change. Share with your family mindfulness activities or other things that work for you, and introduce them to videos, books or other information to help them cope with their stress. Keep in contact with your support network and encourage them to do the same with theirs. Reinforce the message that there is always help available (including professional help) if they feel they are not managing well, and that help is available to the entire family.