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Healthy Mind, Healthy Self: Delving into Childhood Mental Health

“What do you like most about yourself?”

“To be honest, I don’t know.”

This was a simple question asked to a patient by one of the practitioners on the mobile clinic I was working on this week. This patient had just opened up about how she had just been kicked out of her house the night before because of an argument she had gotten into with her mom. When asked the above question she only took a few seconds before answering that she couldn’t think of anything. ANYTHING! My heart immediately dropped. This teen sitting in front of me, during some of the most formable times of her life, could not think of anything she thought was worthy enough to share about herself that was GOOD.

Stop reading this briefly (not for too long though! ), and think about one thing that you like about yourself. I can promise you that most likely this characteristic, at some point, has been instilled to you by someone in your life. Someone has taken the time to affirm a quality in you that is good, and you have allowed that seed to be planted and have nurtured in some sense.

Just recently, on October 11, 2016 we celebrated World Mental Health Day. Prince William at an event in London stated that, “we all have mental health like we do physical health, good and ill”. Learning to stay mentally well is something that we each need to intentionally work on, like we intentionally work on keeping our physical body’s healthy.

The topic of mental health has been historically taboo, but there have been notable efforts to bring awareness to mental illness. However, there is still a lot of room to grow. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) quoted a statistic in one of their recent articles that 1in 5 children in the U.S. suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder, but only about 21% of these children actually received treatment. Further more, suicide is the second leading cause of death in teens aged 15-19 year-olds. These statistics should stick with us because they are lighthouses to the fact that childhood and teenage years arehuman-brain-development-synapse-formation-dependent-early-experience-graphic monumental in a person’s mental health development and our kids right now are suffering with mental un-wellness.

How can we help mentor and foster our little, big fighters in their mental health? The first step is by our own personal example. Kids are sponges and their brains are rapidly developing. We could spend pages on this topic alone, but for right now just remember that the more we foster our own mental wellbeing the more they will see it as a priority for themselves.

The next step is to ask! Our patient from the mobile clinic looked shocked that she was being asked the question about her positive self qualities. The more we discuss our mental health with each other the better. These questions need to be normalized. When you see a friend or co-worker coughing or appearing tired, you typically ask how they are feeling without skipping a beat, what if we normalize asking about our mental health to this point?

Connecting and investing is the next step. This encompasses a variety of things including advocating and investing in our kids’ education. We need to do this early and often. Stresses from developmental and social issues can negatively effect our kids’ mental health and can spiral into mental disease development. We should also advocate within our communities for legislative support focused on organizations that promote childhood and adult mental and physical wellbeing.

I challenge you today to take an intentional look at your own mental health. Take the time to foster your mental wellness and then seek out ways, within your own community, to support our little, big fighters’ mental health.  All it may take at fist is to ask a simple question of someone. “What do you like most about yourself?”

“An unhealthy mind, even in a healthy body, will ultimately destroy health.” – Manly P. Hall

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Meredith Merkley

More about Meredith Merkley

Meredith Merkley was born in the mountains of Colorado, but moved to Ohio, New Mexico and then Arizona. She has a B.S. in Biology with a minor in Chemistry from Northern Arizona University. Afterwards, she packed her bags again and moved to Ohio where she graduated as a D.O. from the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is currently completing her second year of pediatric residency.