9 Lifestyle Factors That Can Affect Your Child’s Mental Health
According to a research study conducted by the NAMHC (National Advisory Mental Health Council), in the United States, 1 out of every 10 adolescents and children suffer from mental illness that may result in a significant functional impairment. Adolescents and Children with mental disorders are at much greater risk for dropping out of school and suffering long-term impairments.
Another Research by the World Health Organization, says that by the year 2020, childhood neuropsychiatric disorders will rise by over 50 percent internationally to become one of the five most common causes of morbidity, mortality, and disability among children.’
Mental illnesses are as real as physical illnesses and the struggles (such as stigma, isolation, lack of resources, inaccessible health-care, discrimination, etc.) which accompany mental illnesses are also as valid as physical symptoms of physical illnesses. Children’s development is shaped by physiological as well as emotional factors. Which means just like with any physical illness, issues with mental health cannot be altered by lifestyle changes alone, it requires changes in physical activity, meditation, and a breathing exercise as well but a lifestyle does play a huge part in shaping our thoughts and habits so the effect it has on mental health simply cannot be ignored completely either.
A dangerously large amount of people today have more than one mental illness. The most alarming thing is the number of people who started showing symptoms of personality disorders and other illnesses in their very childhood. As most personality disorders take their roots in a person’s mind during their childhood, and as the collective mental health of the world is showing continuous deterioration, it is very important to understand what type of lifestyle and environment children should be exposed to in order to eliminate the chances of a potential personality disorder or any other mental illness when they grow up.
Listed below are some lifestyle factors which are believed to play a major role in shaping the minds and personalities of children and adolescents based on numerous studies conducted by mental health professionals.
1. Abuse and Bullying
Abuse, be it verbal or physical or any other kind, can have severe and long-lasting negative consequences and emotional impact on the victim. Children especially are tender-hearted and fragile and unfortunately vulnerable to manipulation and abuse. Exposure to an unhealthy and abusive environment can cause lasting trauma and according to NSPCC’s study on impact of abuse, ‘Depression, severe anxiety, panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are the most common mental health consequences of abuse: the literature suggests that between 30 and 50 per cent of sexually abused children meet the full criteria for a PTSD diagnosis (Widom 1999; Darves-Bornoz et al. 1998), and up to 80 per cent experience at least some ‘post-traumatic’ symptoms (McLeer et al, 1992; Cuffe et al, 1998). These symptoms include intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance, and sudden intrusive flashbacks of the abuse experience.’
In order to ensure your child is safe, make sure you maintain a healthy and open relationship with your child and respect their privacy so that they may feel comfortable opening up to you when something is wrong. Communication and trust are key.
Maltreatment of children is a human rights violation as well as a public health issue involving the family, the immediate relations, and the society as a whole. Abuse and Neglect can correlate on the basis that they both usually stem from an absence of trust and healthy bond between parents and children. Neglected children are the most vulnerable to child abuse. A study conducted by NSPCC observes that ‘The impact of child maltreatment includes a wide range of many complex social and economic problems, with an increased likelihood of mental disorders, health problems, education failure and unemployment, substance addiction, crime and delinquency, homelessness and an intergenerational cycle of abuse and neglect.’
3. Exposure to violence
Children have varied responses when they’re exposed to violence like domestic violence or other violent and traumatic events. Some become afraid, some dissociate and become desensitized to pain and distress of other people, while some retreat into themselves and avoid the world altogether. The effects these varied reactions can have are physical problems, alcohol and substance abuse, adult criminality, acting out, PTSD, anxiety disorder, and other mental complications. If your child goes through something traumatic, make sure that you seek professional help, communicate with your child, and try to restore normalcy in their life.
4. Head Trauma
An Oxford University-led team conducted a research-based study analyzed more than a million Swedes to examine long-term effects of having a brain injury before the age of twenty-five and linked childhood brain injuries such as concussions and severe head trauma to increased risk of mental illness as adults, poor academic performance, and premature death. (Study published in PLOS Medicine in 2016.)
5. Sleeping habits
It is no secret that sleep and mental health are closely connected. In kids and grown-ups alike, sleeping patterns contribute a lot to psychological state and mental health. This is the reason why people who are mentally ill are more likely to have sleeping disorders and vice versa. Most common mental effects of sleep deprivation include severe depression, bipolar disorders, anxiety disorders, and ADHD. A Harvard newsletter states that children with sleeping disorders or poor sleeping habits may become hyperactive, inattentive, and emotionally unstable. There are several ways you can counter the effects of sleep deprivation on your child, including; therapy, sleep hygiene, lifestyle changes, physical activity, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation.
6. Diet and Physical Health
Several studies, similar to the systematic review conducted by PMC, have found evidence of a prominent relationship between unhealthy dietary patterns and poorer mental health in adolescents and children. Studies also showed that good mental health and good-quality diets go hand in hand. By ensuring your child is eating healthy you ensure you’re eliminating chances of a depressive disorder and a lot of other disorders. Neglecting the physical health of your child may cause some serious mental issues as well.
7. Financial Status and Living Conditions
If your family in underprivileged, you’ll have to work hard in order to make sure your child doesn’t develop an inferiority complex as such complexes result in feelings of self-deprecation, self-hatred, anger, jealousy, and hopelessness. Make sure your child doesn’t repress these feelings and you teach them how to process everything in a healthy manner so that they don’t develop personality disorders in adulthood.
8. Physical Activity
We hear this all the time that exercise is important. But we don’t realize just how important it is. Along with ensuring fitness and physical health, it also protects our mental health. It is so effective in helping with mental problems that some studies claim that it is as effective as antidepressants. You don’t have to enroll your child in a gym, just start off by making them walk the dog, or do stretches in the morning, go bike riding or hiking, etc. Make sure you encourage your child and they exercise with their own consent instead of you forcing them to do it otherwise pressure will have the opposite-to-the-desired effect.
9. Meditation and Relaxation Techniques
Teaching your child meditation and relaxation techniques is a really good and effective step you can take to make sure children know how to look after their own mental health when they’re anxious, panicking, losing their temper, etc. Medication can actually change the way our brain processes emotions over time so it is thought to be really effective for mental health.
You can prevent mental illness in your children by paying attention to the factors mentioned above and by making sure you have a non-toxic behavior towards them and they have a healthy environment to learn and grow where they don’t have to repress their feelings and don’t pick up on toxic personality traits or unhealthy life mechanisms. Understanding how these factors affect children and their mental health is the first step in the prevention of a lot of mental health issues.