Over the course of the pandemic, mental health has been a very focal point of the entire discussion. The fact that we are finally beginning to understand the importance of a healthy mind is fantastic and long overdue.
Lockdowns, restrictions and new mandates have effected our lives in a major way. I have compared the loss of social interactions metaphorically as no longer having a bandaid over a cut. The bandaid was simply stopping the bleeding momentarily, it was never fixing the issue at the root of the cause.
As COVID continues to mutate and new variants are seemingly becoming more transmissible, there is a new focus group in our discussions- the children. However, we are sorely missing just the need to protect the physical health of our children, but also the mental health of our future generations.
When the pandemic first began, I was not working around mental health but still putting my energy into my basketball career. I was training junior players, helping develop their skills so they could one day have the opportunity to chase their dreams as professional athletes as well.
Indirectly, I was also teaching them about the mental aspects of the game because in my own journey, that was something I had to work on greatly. I tried to part as much wisdom as I possibly could to each individual player so they could have the opportunity to develop and grow, both on and off the court.
As the pandemic began, the parents of those kids would reach out and ask for my help as these kids were beginning to deteriorate mentally. Obviously, I was happy to help, although I was unsure of what I could provide for them to ensure they headed in the right direction. So I did what anyone else would do- I began to research what I did not know.
I learned about what was important for a healthy mind, what causes deterioration in our mental health and why we find ourselves stuck. As time went on, I realised I wanted to take it a step further and began to study from someone who knows more than I ever will. I began to understand new concepts of how to realign and reframe the thoughts and emotions inside of us.
Since stepping into mental health advocacy as a profession, I have worked with a quite a few children, as young as 11 years old, to help them with depression. Think about that for a second. Think of where you were at 11 years old and how far from depression you probably were.
The thing about working with children is you are never working with just the child, you are working with the entire family. For a parent to watch their child go through life without their light on drains them just as much.
Here are some of the most common conversations I have been having with parents as of late and the advice that you may be searching for.
DEPRESSION IS MISUNDERSTOOD
Here is something you will not hear often- depression is not a bad thing, it is simply misunderstood. You may be compelled to close this article out because of how outlandish that may seem, but let me explain myself.
When we put depression into a metaphorical sense, we often phrase it as a deep pit. We are endlessly falling into an infinite pit of darkness that seems impossible to climb out of.
The metaphor is actually close to what is really happening inside of you. Let's look at the next emotion depression is most commonly associate with- anxiety. When we are anxious, we are constantly looking for answers to relieve that anxiety. "How will I pay rent this week?" "Will I be good enough?" "Is this a safe environment to be in?"
Let's now reframe anxiety, not as the fear that makes us feel unsettled, but the emotion that is trying to help us find answers because at the end of the day, that is what we are trying to do when we feel anxious.
Now we take that reframed understanding of anxiety and we bring that into the pit of depression. We are depressed because we are trying to find the answers that lie deep within ourselves, that are connected to our traumas and behavioural patterns. Now, realising that you are not extremely sad and anxious, you understand you are well within yourself, capable of healing and finding all of the answers that you need to move forward.
We are continuing to operate under the stigma that mental health issues- "mental illness" is a weakness and a negative perception. We also have operated for far too long as a society that mental health was imaginary, although we now know there are serious physical health consequences when we ignore what our body and mind is trying to tell us.
It is time to understand that having battles with depression do not need to be battles. By reframing our understanding of depression and anxiety, we are able to use them as tools, enabling us to find the answers we need. All we must do is surrender to depression, accept it being there and only then, can we begin to heal ourselves.
ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR FEELINGS
Almost all of the kids that I am working with are completely shut off and have their walls up when I first begin sessions with them. One worded answers are most common and their truth isn't even told- they often tell me what they think I want to hear. This is often just a projection from their patterns of what they do when interacting with their parents.
Patience is the major key in these scenarios. We must learn not to be frustrated that they are responding this way. In fact, it is good they are putting up these walls because they are trying to protect themselves. There is pain in there that needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, there is no single trauma that causes this pain, so we must remain patient in waiting to break down these walls.
How do you break down the walls, though? The answer is quite simple- ACCEPT, ACKNOWLEDGE AND VALIDATE how they feel.
By truly accepting the situation for what it is, you will find empathy in yourself while also breaking down your own ego in the matter. We struggle to understand others because our ego continues to fire, which allows our own patterns, dirty lenses and belief systems to invalidate what others may feel.
The younger the person, the more simplistic they are. By acknowledging how they feel, it will raise a spark in the child. When that happens, they will feel comforted to know the way they feel is being seen. As we go through life, we pick up belief patterns on a subconscious level. One that is more common than you would think, is health issues will give attention. When mental health comes into play, this could be the opportunity for the child to gain attention they feel they need and are not receiving. That acknowledgment will break that pattern for a time that will allow you to step inside the walls they have put up, metaphorically speaking.
Once those walls have been broken down, the most vital step is to externally validate how they feel. To break down walls is to step into a persons most vulnerable state and when they hear that external validation, it will begin to reframe the entire emotion. A big mistake I often see parents making, through absolutely no fault of their own but rather a lack of education was as a society have instituted, is the barrage of questions. Sometimes, a simple, "I know you are feeling sad, depressed and anxious but I want you to know that is perfectly okay and I am here for you to help you as you need," is all we an individual is ever looking for.
IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT
This is something that we do by nature, however, we must also realise that we are all individuals and we are all going through our own journey. As a parent, you must understand that you are not the cause of this depression. There may be contributing factors, however the child has the ability to voice those concerns. As a society we have become too dependent on each other from an emotional standpoint.
I understand this is somewhat paradoxical because we are social creatures and need the human interaction to survive. However, we have learned to use each other as crutches, rather than learning to be strong on our own. It is incredibly important for you to understand that you are not to blame in this situation, however in times of need you can be the guide they need.
If you allow yourself to wallow in the self pity or shame from these situations, that effect will be observed by your child and it will send the message that they are the cause of more pain than just their own. This is a negative reinforcement that can only drive them further from climbing out of their depressed state.
Remember, whether your child is suffering from depression, anxiety or nothing at all- ACCEPT, ACKNOWLEDGE AND VALIDATE how they feel. I cannot stress the importance of this enough. By doing these three things, you create healthy communication pathways, safe zones and comfort levels that a child will always feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings with you.
FIND HEALTHY OUTLETS
The rise in technology is actually a massive culprit in our war on mental health- especially in children. Obviously a child's mind is constantly developing and growing, however we are allowing technology to stunt the growth of the future generations. Studies are proving that extended screen time, is stunting the development of children on an emotional level, as well as intelligence level, as early as 12 months old.
With such an abundance of technology, how much of it is controlling our lives? The better question we need to ask ourselves is how much are we allowing it to control our lives?
Many young kids are addicted to their phones- with endless scrolls through social media platforms such as Tik Tok and instagram, the excessive use is easy to fall into. As parents and guardians, we must ensure we are not allowing our children to fall into these traps, depleting their emotional intelligence.
Technology becomes addictive and we become trapped inside a warped version of reality, comparing everyone else's highlights to our lowlights. This unhealthy version of 'keeping up with the jones's' further pulls our self worth down and depressive states become easier to sink into.
Alternatively, setting boundaries and healthy time limits on the use of phones, tablets and video games, can easily right the ship towards a healthier mind state. Ensuring getting fresh air and exercise is incredibly important. While I realise that the current climate of the world is difficult at times with lockdowns, mandates and health hazards, there are plenty of alternative and creative ways to get healthy exercise.
Those endorphins our brain creates along with other chemical reactions from exercise, creates a healthy response to battling depression, allowing us to feel happiness and satisfaction.
KIDS NEED TO BE KIDS - ALLOW THEM TO EXPRESS THEMSELVES
A timeless saying- "kids will be kids." It is true, it is the nature of humans to just be who we are. We must allow children to express themselves in whatever way they feel comfortable. Silencing them or creating false realities on what is true and what is acceptable can lead down the road to depression.
Many kids begin to lose their voice as time goes on, this stems from both the home and from their peers. As the voice is quieted, their self worth is brought down with it. An individual who loses their self worth finds themselves in a depressive state because they are trying to find the answers within themselves- the place where their voice is always heard.
Allowing a child the freedom to express themselves and their voice to be heard within an integral environment, is an absolute key to maintaining a healthy mind during these pivotal years of growth both emotionally and individually. This shows them worth, a support system and an environment that is safe.
When it comes down to it, we are all individuals on our own journey. This means we all make our own decisions and have our own thoughts and feelings. There will be times on our journey that we need help and there will be times that we are helping others. To help others, you must ensure that you are not allowing your own ego, patterns and belief systems to contaminate your views of the situation. We must learn to surrender to our emotions and understand how they can always benefit us.
Children are more simplistic at the core, however more complex to break down. Understand that a child's journey requires patience, building of trust and most of all, compassion. ACCEPT, ACKNOLWEDGE and VALIDATE. Allow them to feel heard and their walls will begin coming down.
If you or someone you know ever needs help, I am always a message away.